The minimum weight for Thoroughbred jockeys in California would be raised to 118 pounds under a regulation approved for a 45-day public comment period by the state's horse racing board June 3.
Jockeys, at physical risk due to severe dieting and other methods of weight control, want to see the restrictions lessened to improve their health. California would be the first state to adopt such a measure.
While the board has not approved any change, at least half of the six members present at the meeting indicated support for raising the scale. If the Jockeys' Guild-requested modifications are approved without change at the CHRB's Aug. 19 meeting, the new regulation could be in place in time for the Santa Anita meeting, executive director Roy Wood said.
Chris McCarron, the retired Hall of Fame jockey who is the general manager of Santa Anita Park, said he hoped a relaxed scale would be in effect by Dec. 26, Santa Anita's opening day. McCarron, who spoke passionately in favor of the jockeys at the CHRB meeting in April at Golden Gate Fields, reiterated his backing for them. He said executives of Magna Entertainment, which owns Santa Anita and Gulfstream parks as well as several other racetracks, were also supportive.
But McCarron stopped short of endorsing the CHRB plan.
"As a general manager, I'm concerned with field size," he said, noting that handicap trainers could look for other places to run if assigned weights of 132 pounds or more.
When pressed by commissioner Roger Licht on his postion, McCarron said, "We at Santa Anita want to help the jockeys," McCarron said. "I'm in favor of raising the scale. I'm not sure if I'm in favor of a CHRB rule change to do it."
Several years ago, he said owners convinced racing secretaries to add two or three pounds to their conditions "and that worked fine. This is a much bigger step."
He said he would prefer to see tracks do their own scale, what he called "house rules."
"That way you go down a couple of pounds, if need be," he said.
Jockeys want to increase the minimum weight carried by riders to 118 pounds nude for Thoroughbred and Arabian races, 123 for Quarterhorse, Paint and Mule races.
Every horse would carry 10 pounds of riding gear, including the saddle and all of the jockey's equipment and clothing.
Jockeys would be required to maintain a minimum body fat content of 5% in order to ride, and they would be checked daily. The standard, optional to riders licensed prior to 2004, would safeguard against internal damage caused by starvation, sweatboxes and vomiting, as well as prevent larger exercise riders from attempting to reach 118 pounds, said Darrell Haire, a representative for the Jockeys' Guild.
"Those four or five pounds are going to make a huge difference to jockeys," Haire said. "They will be able to take better care of themselves at a younger age."
Current minimum weight is 112 pounds in overnight races restricted by age for 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds, subject to further allowance for sex and apprentice riders. For all other races besides handicap and stakes races, the minimum, although never applied, is 103 pounds.
Drew Couto, representing the Thoroughbred Owners of California, suggested that action be delayed on moving to the public comment period until horsemen get answers to questions from the jockeys and the scientific evidence regarding jockey health issues can be investigated. Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, agreed, saying, "it is all too complicated an issue to squeeze into a 45-day comment period.
"I'm not sure why there's a rush to judgement on this," Halpern added.
Barry Broad, counsel for the Jockeys' Guild, said he wanted the board to take its time.
"We're obviously in favor of the proposal going forward," Broad said. "But from our perspective, we want this fully vetted." He said the Jockeys' Guild would provide whatever evidence or background was needed to defend its position.
"It means we're not going to have dizzy jockeys getting on horses in the end," Broad said.