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'It's not going to help any of us' - jockeys critical of minimum weights rise

New minimum weights for jockeys are set to replace the 3lb Covid-19 allowance
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Jockeys have given a decidedly cool reaction to a raising of the minimum weight for Flat and jumps races designed to improve the welfare of riders and the competitiveness of racing in Britain.

The BHA announced on Tuesday the introduction of a 2lb increase of the minimum weight in Flat races from 8st to 8st 2lb from Saturday, March 26, and over jumps from 10st to 10st 2lb.

The increases will replace the 3lb Covid-19 allowance that had been permitted since the resumption of racing in June 2020 due to saunas being deemed out of use during the pandemic. The move has been made after lengthy consultation with jockey and trainer representatives, who agreed the rise should be made after the permanent closure of racecourse saunas was announced last November.

Megan Nicholls, who rides on the Flat and is the daughter of champion trainer Paul Nicholls, strongly expressed concern at the impact that the change, combined with the now forbidden use of racecourse saunas, would have on jockeys' welfare.

Megan Nicholls: "I strongly believe that more needs to be discussed before they can set this in stone for forever"

Nicholls said: "Jockeys are getting physically stronger, fitter, therefore heavier and it's hard to keep your weight as it is. By taking the sauna completely away and the weight allowance but saying we've given you an extra two pounds, you haven't given us an extra two pounds at all.

"The PJA are very good and they do look after us, but unfortunately when we were in the Zoom calls with [acting chief executive] Dale [Gibson] he was adamant they had to be gone and would not have it that I thought it was up for discussion.

"On these calls I had myself, Page Fuller and Andrew Mullen as the representatives that were involved. We are three very fortunate people in that we once in a blue moon have to sweat, so I don't think it's fair that the three of us can comment on the saunas correctly or fairly on behalf of the jockeys because we don't use them."

Nicholls added: "Instead there was a survey sent out and people should have sent the feedback via the survey. Now I don't believe that is a fair discussion because you can't always give your proper opinion over a survey, and also I strongly believe that the decision was made before the meetings.

"If you're going to try to brand jockeys as an athlete, and you want them to have the correct diet and you don't want them to have bulimia and you want to minimise the sweating and the strain on the body, surely jumping in the sauna for 20 minutes or half an hour is less strain on your body than having to have an hour and a half bath, driving four hours then over-hydrating because your thirst feels more than it necessarily should do.

"I strongly believe that more needs to be discussed before they can set this in stone for forever."

The Racing Post understands the survey of the jockey population revealed 70 per cent voted for removal of saunas with the allowance remaining, four per cent voted for removal of saunas and no allowance, with the remaining 26 per cent opting for saunas to come back and allowance to be removed.

Echoing Nicholls' sentiments was Richard Kingscote. Speaking to Sky Sports Racing at Lingfield, he said: "Collectively everyone's not very happy. The saunas have already been ripped out and we're not keeping our allowance.

Richard Kingscote: "Collectively everyone's not very happy"

"The 2lb may help on a maiden, but it's not going to help in the handicaps. It's not going to help any of us. We're back to square one. They're giving with one hand and taking away with the other. It's a bit frustrating that we were kept in the dark. Everyone's a little bit miffed and hopefully people can open it back up.

"For two years we've managed with no saunas because of the extra weight, now we've no saunas and no extra weight. That's only going to lead to young lads throwing up. If you're stuck for doing overweight or throwing up, there's some young lads that'll make bad decisions."

In a statement, Gibson noted the changes had required "compromise from all parties", adding: "Some jockeys are concerned that their body weight has naturally increased during the lengthy Covid period where the 3lb allowance was utilised, however we will continue to monitor the forthcoming weight structure closely."

The BHA's chief medical adviser, Dr Jerry Hill, who is to lead work on the creation of a plan to introduce individual minimum weights for jockeys, was in no doubt the closure of saunas was the right approach.
He said: "The closure of saunas on our racecourses represents a significant step forward for jockey wellbeing and a permanent raising of the minimum weight, while protecting competitiveness by raising the maximum weight, is the correct response to that development."

Read these next:

All saunas to be removed as Britain's weighing rooms undergo modernisation

Why jockeys aren't happy with the facilities racecourses provide

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I think it's really, really disappointing that the PJA who are meant to be representing the jockeys have not actually done enough
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