Talking Horses: Jockeys resist idea of saunas being taken from tracks

Talking Horses: Jockeys resist idea of saunas being taken from tracks

Today’s best bets, by Chris Cook

Unexpectedly, saunas have become a source of tension within racing this summer. Twice this month, I’ve heard from jockeys worried about suggestions that racecourse saunas are to be removed, perhaps to be replaced by the healthier alternative of exercise bikes.

Dr Jerry Hill, chief medical advisor to the British Horseracing Authority, tells me such fears are groundless, at least for now and probably for a very long time. But in principle he would like to see a day when those saunas were no longer in use and has said as much in public before. It seems that word of his very long-term ambition has finally worked its way around the jockey community, which really doesn’t like the idea.

“My thrust around this whole area of nutrition, hydration and weight-making is to identify the problem and put in place education and support, rather than go in and do something heavy-handed,” said Hill, who has been pushing for jockeys to eat better and give up appalling habits like ‘flipping’, regurgitating food immediately after eating. “If you engage with people and work with people, you’re much more likely to effect long-term change.

“By the time I retire, which will not be soon, I would like the saunas at racecourses to have become redundant because jockeys are no longer having to make the weight in a short period of time, but instead have the tools at their disposal to make the weight most of the time without having to crash their weight.

“I would love it if, one day, the racecourses came to me and said, ‘Take these saunas out because no one’s using them’. It might be naive and optimistic but you’ve got to have aims. It could take a generation to get there.”

Certainly, the weighing room is unwilling to contemplate the idea, if the two experienced riders who spoke to me are any guide. One, a Flat jockey, predicted his colleagues would rather strike than give up racecourse saunas. If the saunas were removed, he said, it would lead to an increase in flipping.

A jump jockey said he felt the plan was naive and impractical. “In an ideal world, it would be marvellous not to have any saunas whatsoever. He wants to put a Wattbike on the racecourses, so that you put your sweatsuit on and lose weight on a bike. That sounds brilliant, I’d love to do all that but when you’ve been riding out all morning …” Saunas are a much more attractive method to someone with limited supplies of energy and six rides to come.

Hill said it was “not beyond the realms of possibility” that racing might consider raising the minimum weights to be carried by horses, so as to ease the weight-making pressure on some jockeys. But he also said the sport might need to be more proactive, when faced with would-be jockeys who are likely to struggle with their weight, in guiding them towards other careers.

“We can look at their family history, look at their potential adult size. Are we setting people up to fail? Are they simply going to be too big? We should be able to say to people, you may not be the right size to be a jockey, but here are some alternative roles you could play in the industry.”

Hill added that jockeys generally are a long way from reaching the ideal body composition for elite athletes such as they should hope to be. He pointed to a recent study showing that jockeys average a body fat of 14%, compared to 8% among boxers, another weight-limited sport.

“If we can help them drop the body fat, they don’t then have to be dehydrated and the sauna becomes redundant,” Hill said. This is where the exercise bikes would come in, since that exercise would help to keep a jockey’s metabolism “ticking over” in Hill’s words. He added that a jockey making weight by those means, without resorting to saunas, would generally be in a better mood and would have greater bone strength.

What I need to put me in a better mood is a big run from Little Cupcake (3.15). This mare is a 28-1 shot for a sprint handicap at Beverley and is not especially well drawn, but I’m not fussed about that because she’s more of a strong finisher than a prominent racer. If she was well drawn, she’d soon be stuck behind a wall of horses.

The Post notes rather sniffily that her career record is 1/41 but nearly all of that was in France or Ireland and there will be more opportunities for a horse of her limitations in this country. Doesn’t it make you proud?

Of her three starts here, two were in Polytrack sellers, so I submit that her only really relevant bit of form is her last-time sixth of 15 at Brighton, when she ran on nicely after completely blowing the start. If she can get away on terms, as she has done in the past, she can be competitive. She comes from the low-profile Denis Quinn yard that has won with three of its last four runners.

The nap is Imphal (4.30) in the last at Bath, where 11-10 looks good about his chance of building on a course and distance success from last month, just his second handicap and his first since being fitted with cheekpieces. The runner-up that day, the only one who got close to him, has since won from the same mark by three lengths.

At Worcester tonight, 7-1 is interesting about Aaman (7.30), towards the foot of the weights in a selling handicap hurdle. The 11-year-old won from a higher mark last summer and has had only three starts since, with excuses for at least one of those. Richard Johnson is an eye-catching booking, replacing Robert Williams. The champ won on his only ride for trainer Bernard Llewellyn in recent seasons.

Tips for all Tuesday races

Bath
2.00
Pondering 2.30 Bella Alissa 3.00 June Dog 3.30 Super Julius 4.00 Archimedes 4.30 Imphal (nap)

Beverley
2.15
Cameo Star 2.45 Roundhay Park 3.15 Little Cupcake 3.45 La Fritillaire 4.15 Full Of Promise 4.45 Valley Of Rocks 5.15 Clenymistra 5.45 Royal Reserve

Worcester
6.00
Defining Year 6.30 Knight Of Noir 7.00 Mr Shantu 7.30 Aaman 8.00 Moontripper 8.30 Cillian’s Well 9.00 For Instance

Thirsk
6.10
Infamous Lawman 6.40 Nag’s Wag (nb) 7.10 Blushing Red 7.40 Liquid 8.10 Yorkshire Pudding 8.40 Italian Riviera 9.10 Right About Now

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