Matt Chapman on the future for jockeys – "It would be grave mistake for racing to return to how things were pre-Covid"
26th February 2021

CAN good come from bad? It might for jockeys.

Covid-19 has been a nightmare for most, but as rays of sunshine begin to filter through the darkness riders may find the pandemic was a blessing in disguise.

Indeed, the Professional Jockeys’ Association told me: "It would be a grave mistake for racing to return to how things were pre-Covid."

On a welfare front the life of a jockey has changed:

  1. One meeting a day has meant their lifestyle has improved.
  2. An extra 3lb weight allowance has been welcomed
  3. Lack of sauna use has meant wasting hours before a meeting has been eliminated
  4. Even mobile phone usage on track has simplified existence.

PJA chief Paul Struthers said: "We sent a consultation questionnaire to all our members two weeks ago seeking their views on a number of wellbeing related issues.

"The survey closed on Friday and the results will be published in due course after they’re analysed. These will then be used by our Board when it comes to making policy decisions around key issues such as the one meeting a day restriction, breaks, saunas and the additional Covid weight allowance.

"For all the damage that the pandemic has caused, it is clear from both anecdotal feedback and early analysis of questionnaire results that some of the Covid-enforced changes have had a positive impact on jockeys welfare and wellbeing."

Struthers added: "I firmly believe that the sport can have a robust plan for post-Covid financial recovery that has the welfare of jockeys, trainers and racing staff at its heart.

"The two don’t need to be mutually exclusive, as they have been for far too long, and it would be a grave mistake for racing to return to how things were pre-Covid."


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That is the big question. What happens once ‘normal’ life returns following the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap to freedom?

Jockeys, to the man and woman, will surely embrace anything that prolongs their career.

Last year they lost two colleagues in Liam Treadwell and James Banks. Anything that goes even a little way to preventing such tragedies should be seen as a blessing.

Sauna usage is one of the most interesting areas of the change to a jockey’s life.

It has always been seen as part of the job that most jockeys would turn up at the races and head straight to the sauna.

As someone who struggles with saunas – but loves the heat of a steam room – I know first hand that the idea of leaving one and riding within a few minutes is in many ways madness.

My understanding is that about 60% of jockeys have not struggled to make their weight since saunas have been banned on track. That’s a high statistic.

Added to that getting on for 30% had no opinion on the subject, while only about 10% said they were finding things tricky. The chances are that last group would find weightloss a hardship whether there are saunas or not.

Clearly PJA members take this topic seriously. I believe nigh on half the members – getting on for 200 – of the organisation have responded to the survey. That’s many more than usually get involved.

The one meeting a day rule will not have worked for everyone. But of course while some have had less rides, others, like Jack Mitchell, have totally pumped up their career to a new level.

And look at two performers like Tom Marquand and Luke Morris.

They are known for taking loads of mounts.

Marquand had 1054 rides in 2019 and only dipped to 1015 in 2020 despite the pandemic and trips abroad.

Morris was down to 1139 in 2020 from 1265 in 2019 but that’s still a decent haul. And he had more winners in 2020 meaning his wins to rides ratio was up by 3%.

There are many jockeys in action on ITV4 today with a big field set to go to post for the big betting race of the day, the Close Brothers Handicap Chase which carries Grade 3 status.

I’m hoping Double Shuffle, at the age of eleven, can show the youngsters he’s still got a big one in him. The former King George runner-up loves the track.

Elsewhere there might be some Triumph Hurdle clues in the Grade 2 Close Brothers Adonis Juvenile Hurdle, with Tritonic the one to beat.

I’ll have a few quid eachway on newcomer Paso Doble for Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden.

It all tells us the Cheltenham Festival is around the corner. Then it will be the welfare of punters we all have to worry about!


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