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15th April 2004, 07:41.53 PM
HBO documentary ‘Jockey’ makes case for raising minimum weight


The soon to be released HBO documentary "Jockey: America Undercover," shown during a screening organized by jockey Shane Sellers and former jockey-turned-agent Randy Romero, graphically details what jockeys in North America must endure to survive in their profession, including their rigorous, and often dangerous, dieting to maintain riding weight.
The 84-minute film, directed by Emmy award winner Kate Davis, gives an inside and sometimes disconcerting look at the lives of Sellers, Romero, and former apprentice Chris Rosier. Sellers and Romero hope the film, which premieres April 26 at 8 p.m. EDT, PDT, will support the Jockeys' Guild’s efforts to raise the 110-pound minimum weight scale weight by six pounds, a proposition currently being examined by the California Horse Racing Board.

"People don’t know what riders go through. It’s a secret, a kept secret," stated Sellers, who had to drop 23 pounds in order to return to the saddle. In the film, Sellers discusses what he did to drop, or "pull," five to six pounds daily in order to make riding weight. "Lasix, flipping [vomiting], the hot box [sauna]…there were literally times when I would hit the wire and see dots, and be too weak to pull the horse up."

The film explores the inside of the jockeys' room, including a special toilet that riders use for purging. "I heaved for 15 years," Sellers said. "I just bent over… it sounds gross, but it’s reality."

After watching to tortuous health problems endured by Romero, who attributes his severe kidney and liver problems to a career-long custom of vomiting after a meal, Seller no longer tries to heave, and instead tacks a few pounds heavier. "I ride at 116-117 now, not 113. I’ve not had one trainer not ride me," said Sellers in the film.

Jose Santos, rider of Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Jose Santos and jockeys Robby Albarado, Mark Guidry, Jose Martinez, and Willie Martinez joined Sellers and Romero in an informal meeting with media after the screening to show support for a weight increase and to counter claims espoused by some horsemen, including Racing Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, that to increase the minimum riding weight for jockeys would be to the detriment of the horses they ride.

"I have to lose three to four pounds every day, yet I go to places in other countries where riders ride with more weight," stated Santos. "I think it’s a very poor excuse that a few more pounds will break a horse down. Look at what these horses carry when they work in the morning." Santos used to ingest diuretics to try to make 112 riding weight. The effects of the pills would cause him to wake up every 30 minutes throughout the night to relieve himself. "I would wake up five pounds lighter, but pass out later in the day in the hot months."

Guidry estimated that 90% of riders have to reduce on a daily basis, the effects of which contribute to long-term health problems such as heart conditions, kidney failure, and constant dehydration. A limited survey conducted by the Jockeys' Guild found that today’s riders have an average of 2% to 3% body fat, a point at which the body starts to cannibalize its organs according to Guild Vice President Albert Fiss. "It’s a health issue that we are very concerned about," Fiss stated. "The minimum body fat for athletes in other sports such as triathlon, gymnastics, body building, etc., is 5%. In order for 75% of today’s riders to carry 5% body fat, we found the weight of a jockey in the nude to be 118 pounds."

Standardizing a jockey’s minimum weight to be 118 without clothing or tack, and giving a ten-pound weight allowance for the equipment a horse carries from his withers to his rump is a proposition currently being explored in California. TOC President John Van de Kamp and Chairman Ron Charles indicated support for raising jockey’s weight, although both cited a need for further explanation of the specifics of this proposed rule change.

"While the TOC doesn’t have a firm position on this rule change, we’ve been sympathetic to weight increases," stated Van de Kamp. "We realize this is a problem."

Charles indicated that most of the TOC board members were in favor of prolonging jockeys’ careers, which an increase in riders’ weights would allow. "It’s unrealistic, the weight," he said. "Nowhere else in the world do they ride so low."

Charles said he does not agree with the argument that raising weights, places increased stress on the racehorse, thus possibly leading to increased breakdowns.

"Personally, I don’t see it," states Charles. "I see a lot of exercise riders doing 125-130 [pounds] working horses in the morning. I can’t buy into that it’s going to make a difference in the durability of the horse."

"If weight is such an issue, then why is the Kentucky Derby run with horses carrying 126 pounds, over a distance they’ve never gone before?" Sellers said. "You have horses not even two years old carrying 145-150 working :10:02 at the sales. If owners knew and understood what jockeys go through, they wouldn’t have a problem with it."

Veteran racetrack practitioner Dr. Rick Arthur, past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said he is not so sure.

"The weight a horse carries is a function of the work he does," Arthur said.

"Whether ten pounds is significant or not, I don’t think anyone knows. My feeling, it is one of the reasons trainers use the lightest riders they can for works," he said, adding that he believes it is one of the reasons behind trainer Bob Baffert’s ability to work horses at speed and keep them sound. "Baffert uses one of the lightest riders on the backside to work his horses. It’s a great advantage. The competition has to use heavier riders."

While Arthur has concerns with increasing the weight a racehorse carries, he too is sympathetic to jockeys. "Raising the weight to a minimum of 118, not including tack, isn’t terrible; but there should be some concern. I’m in favor of a compromise position."

Outspoken Sellers is passionate about the issue.

"If this was the NFL, the players' union would go to the commission and say ‘We’ve got a problem here; fix it.’ "

Sellers's eyes do not waver as he brings his point home. "We’re dying here."--Laura Proctor

16th April 2004, 09:14.05 AM
I agree that the weights should increase for jockeys, but I also know that there will always be a weight problem, no matter what. Ask anyone who has boxed or wrestled to make a weight. As a wrestler in HS I remember drinking pineapple juice for a week to make weight for a tournament.
To this day I hate pineapple juice!

Years ago this discussion came up. Someone said that if horses could have a rolling start as they do in harness racing, weight would not be an issue.