Logic should prevail. It didn’t make sense when I was riding 50 years ago and you would race a horse 2 miles over hurdles one week and in his next week’s engagement on the flat over 7furlongs he would not be allowed to carry more than 9.7. It makes even less sense now when the horses haven’t shrunk but the jockey, compared to Joe Mercer, Frankie Durr and Willie Carson, are like Gulliver in Lilliput.
Tradition is one of racing’s greatest assets but it can also be a trap. It may be fun to glory in that apprentice called Kitchener who made all the running to win the Chester Cup when weighing just 3 stone 4lbs, but that was back in 1863. What’s more the result was relayed from the unsaddling enclosure to the owner in Sussex by carrier pigeon. Sure the weights have moved up since then, but the point of this extremely welcome discussion is “have they moved far enough?”
The debate is long overdue. For, in these more enlightened and more litigious times, any responsible sport must confront the duties of care that this issue raises for its participants, be they on two legs or on four. On the horse side, it must be clearly established what is a reasonable maximum weight for a flat runner to carry without seriously increasing the risk of injury.
Discussing jockeys, press, players and authorities alike must abandon our ‘Flat Earther’ assertions that, unlike any other human activity on this planet, severe dehydration and bulimia do not impair mental and physical performance. We preach away about fitness, nutrition and lifestyle and then what do we do? We put saunas in every weighing room and in America the first toilet is called ‘The Flippers’ Bowl’,
Sometime soon there will be a quick and cheap dehydration test that will be used as often, and I fear with far more exclusions, than the current procedures for drugs and alcohol. At first it will be hugely unpopular but in these writ happy times its operation will be unavoidable. To continue our current stance of ‘dehydration denial’ will be no defence against unhappy relatives suing on ‘duty of care’ grounds after a catastrophic accident.
Nothing will be easy. Flat racing is now a truly global activity and, as our Brexiteers are discovering, international agreements are not easily gained. But British and Irish Racing have a proud history on how they care for both horses and riders. They should unite to lead on this issue now.