Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) interim chief executive Dale Gibson admits there is “work to do” after widespread anger from riders following the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) decision to increase minimum riding weights by 2lb.
This decision has drawn criticism from several leading flat jockeys, including Group One-winning rider Jason Watson who is ‘disgusted’ by the ruling.
Initially, weights were raised by 3lb following the resumption of racing after the first Covid lockdown but following extensive discussions, the consensus was a 2lb allowance should be permanent with saunas no longer in use on racecourses.
The BHA said the move followed consultation with cross-industry groups, including the PJA, but many of the PJA’s members, including Richard Kingscote and PJ McDonald – the organisation’s Flat safety officer – have said they were ‘kept in the dark’.
Speaking to Sky Sports Racing on Thursday, Gibson said: “It’s been a quite extraordinary last couple of days. We were involved in consultation meetings in late summer and early autumn last year where it was always our position that the 3lb Covid allowance would continue. How long that was going to go for? I don’t know.
“It became evident that, because the riders were in a better place not using the saunas, the Covid allowance was essential.
“The Covid allowance has meant they haven’t had to sweat in the car, they’ve been in a lot better place mentally and physically and they’ve been able to utilise that 3lbs.
“Jockeys have utilised the 3lb allowance to maintain rides for certain trainers and it’s really key that riders keep riding for those same trainers.
“It’s going to be a struggle in the two months’ time for those same horses to be ridden by the rider of a trainer’s choice.
“It’s become a hot topic in the weighing room and we’re keen to progress that matter.
“I think there’s work to do. We’ve already been in conversation with the BHA and the NTF (National Trainers Federation) on this subject and we’re hoping to progress the outcome shortly.
“We want to keep working with them on this to get to a solution that suits everybody. We’re going to continue to work for the riders and let’s see where this goes.”
What is changing?
From Saturday, March 26 the minimum weight carried by Flat jockeys will be 8st 2lb while their jumping counterparts will ride from a minimum of 10st 2lb from Friday, April 29.
The 3lb Covid allowance will remain in place until the new revised weights structure is implemented.
A 3lb allowance for safety equipment, introduced following the requirement to wear a Level 2 body protector, will remain in place, as will a further 1lb allowance for all Flat jockeys during the winter months to account for an extra layer of warming clothing, a provision that has been in operation since 2013.
What jockeys have said?
“I think the people that are making these decisions should come and live a day with us.
“We’re the ones living it and the people making the decisions are going home, having dinners every night and not doing the hours that we do and running out of hours to drop off the weight.
“I feel like we’ve been cheated out of something we agreed to do. People have been getting bigger and taller for decades now and we need to keep up with that.
“I’m disgusted really by what’s being said and totally against it.”
“It was a great step forward when Covid hit that they took away the saunas.
“The [Covid] allowance has helped everyone, from Adam Kirby all the way down to the apprentices who have their claims.
“This now seems like one step forward and two steps back.
“The saunas were an easy way to make weight but we were all in agreement we were happy to get rid of them because of the 3lb filled that void.
“They’ve now made it twice as difficult to do the weights we still have to do. We’re losing out more than we’re ever gaining.”
“Collectively, everyone is not very happy. We were given a questionnaire vote, which everyone responded to and said we’re happy to get rid of the saunas if we keep our allowance.
“The 2lb may help on a maiden but it’s not going to help in a handicap. We’re back to square one.
“People feel as though they are giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
“It’s frustrating that we were kept in the dark. No one heard anything about it until today. Hopefully, people can open it back out, talk and figure something out.”