x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Horse racing is a ride with some weighty issues for jockeys

From working to make their weight to studying their mounts and their opponents, a jockey's regime involves dieting and excercise. And then comes the riding.

Silvestre De Sousa, centre, has a simple race-day ritual: He sleeps late, eats a nice breakfast, reads the paper and studies his opponents, and then goes racing.
Silvestre De Sousa, centre, has a simple race-day ritual: He sleeps late, eats a nice breakfast, reads the paper and studies his opponents, and then goes racing.

If safety stipulations in your chosen profession require that an ambulance follow you as you carry out your daily duties, you can be sure you are not engaged in an average job.

But if you weigh just 53kg and balance precariously over the muscled back of a racehorse that weighs more than 500kg and is galloping at speeds in excess of 60kph, you begin to see why the ambulance might come in handy.

Because being a jockey is not just a job, it is a calling.

When things go wrong, jockeys come in for serious knocks.

"Our bodies can take loads of punishment and most of us are pretty durable," said Glyn Schofield, the English born, South African raised and Australian-based jockey.

"I've had a broken leg, arm, collar bone and spine two or three times."

So on top of dealing with danger, jockeys must have the ability to make a swift comeback from debilitating injuries.

Schofield demonstrated his dedication last year when he came back from injury - "I broke my collar bone in four places, and had 14 screws and a plate inserted" - to win the Group 1 Singapore Cup three weeks later on Gitano Hernando.

"Falls are part of the job," Schofield said.

"But none of us think about it, otherwise you couldn't compete ... I was back riding two weeks after the fall. All thanks to a great surgeon, Dr David Duckworth in Sydney."

The perils jockeys face while racing are obvious, but they also make remarkable sacrifices to stay in shape and make their racing weight - sacrifices that most people would not contemplate even for the riches that are on offer to the elite few.

Foremost among the challenges is sticking to an incredibly strict diet to achieve race weight.

Schofield, who is due to ride five horses at the Dubai World Cup meeting on Saturday, said wherever he travels, his weighing scales are a constant companion.

"We are all pretty small when we begin our careers and we are all mostly slim or skinny, but that's due to years of watching what you eat and travelling with a set of scales in your bag," he said.

Some jockeys battle with their weight and resort to "wasting" - a process that can involve near-starvation rations, self-induced vomiting (known in the business as "flipping") and the use of laxatives, diuretics and hours spent sweating in saunas.

That is the dark side of race riding, and it can cause dehydration and health problems for riders who need to regularly lose weight.

The sanguine Schofield, 44, says he has found a system that works for him, but still needs to shed a few kilos on occasion.

"Saunas, gyms and exercise are part of the norm, I reckon, but once you work out how your body reacts to food and drink, it's pretty simple to manage," he said.

"If I eat a bit too much today, then tomorrow I have less than normal and try to work a bit harder. Typically, I don't eat breakfast if possible and if I do then nothing till dinner. When I was younger I could eat whatever I wanted and still make any weight, but now I have to be really careful."

He said he will often need to lose about 2kg on race days.

"Right now my typical day is a cup of coffee when I get up, track work, then home before racing," he said.

"Sauna, gym, cycling and Bikram yoga are my preferred ways of losing weight race mornings, and I mix them up.

"I'll have something to eat at night but depending on the weight I ride at the next day I can eat well or not much. I try to stay off carbs."

Other jockeys echo Schofield's experience.

Gerald Mosse, a top French rider, said he consumes only a cup of coffee and a croissant per day.

Russell Baze, the 53-year-old US Hall of Fame jockey, who has ridden more than 11,400 winners, manages on "a bag of M&M peanuts and a few sips of pop for breakfast" every day.

Female jockeys often find it easier to make low riding weights but still follow an exercise regime.

Chantal Sutherland, the Canadian star who is set to become the first woman to ride in the Dubai World Cup this weekend, works out every day.

"I run some days, I do yoga others and weights as well," she said. "I try to mix it up. A jockey's regime varies depending on their body type.

"I'm quite strong and can put on muscle pretty quickly. You can't get too heavy, though, so you've got to be careful with weights.

"I do 90 minutes of Bikram yoga on one day, I run three to five miles on others and then do weights for about an hour - so I do something every day."

Silvestre de Sousa, Godolphin's new jockey, is one of the charmed few who does not need to worry about his weight and does not follow a particular diet or exercise plan beyond a weekly game of football.

"I know I'm lucky," said the 30-year-old Brazilian, who was runner-up to Frankie Dettori in the Carnival jockeys' championship.

"I love sugar and always have a big breakfast. When I'm riding in England I would even get a McDonald's for breakfast after riding out."

It is not just making race weights that occupies a jockey's mind.

They study the form of the horses they ride and their competitors.

They also receive pre-race instructions from trainers.

Finally, they then attempt to navigate the fastest route through the speeding and sometimes closely-packed field to the finish line.

Schofield said jockeys have verbal exchanges during races, but shied away from recounting the actual words.

"Communicate is a nice way of putting it," he said.

"If a rider is stuck in a difficult spot they call out and yell if it's getting too tight for comfortable racing."

He said that it is OK to hold another runner behind you without interfering with him, but to bump a horse out the way is not permitted.

"Swearing occurs during races, but on the whole we do look out for each other because the ground hurts if you hit it," he said.

"If you yell for room you're in the wrong spot and you probably wont be given any." In addition to the tactical nature of race riding, jockeys are also charged with making sure their mounts race safely.

A sudden swerving or the slowing down of a tired horse can cause serious accidents.

"All runners are entitled to a trouble free run but that's not always the case in practice," Schofield said.

"If we impede another horse unfairly then we usually have a charge of careless riding to answer to the stewards.

"This could result in a suspension from racing for a period of time."

He said more lengthy suspensions are given for varying degrees of breaches to the rules, the longest of which is a disqualification. The stewards, who are essentially judge, jury and executioner at the track, can be an intimidating lot.

"The first time you go in front of the stewards it's really daunting," said Schofield, who recently was dealt a suspension by stewards in Sydney after being deemed guilty of careless riding.

"Actually they are a daunting bunch period, because they decide your fate. Inquiries are conducted pretty strictly, it is usually six or seven of them sitting behind a big desk with the little bloke sitting alone trying to answer questions to get out of a possible charge.

"After being in the stewards room for a few years it gets a bit easier to relax and put a better defence across.

"We aren't allowed to ask any questions, only to answer them."

 

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