New breaks and earlier evenings for racing staff and jockeys amid burnout fears
The Professional Jockeys Association hopes the introduction of two breaks into the 2019 Flat racing schedule and earlier finishes to floodlit meetings will help prevent riders suffering burnout in the face of an increase in fixtures and longer working hours.
Jockeys reluctant to take a break for fear of missing rides will get guaranteed time off as a result of a move – agreed by all racing's stakeholders – which will mean a six-day break in November at the end of the turf season and another lasting five days in March, near the conclusion of the winter all-weather programme.
In addition, all floodlit fixtures, which run from January to mid-April and September to December, will finish earlier, with the final race starting no later than 8.30pm under policies the BHA said prioritise support for the sport's workforce.
With jump jockeys benefiting from an eight-day summer break and five-day spell at the end of the season, the PJA pressed for a similar rest period on the Flat because of the expansion of the fixture list.
"There are top-flight professional jockeys riding out eight, nine, ten lots a morning, before race-riding. I know that's part of the job, but to then get back home beyond midnight and do the same thing the next day leaves its mark.
"We have to be sensible and I think, with careful planning and consideration, this can be more than a trial, it can be a permanent position."
Leading Flat rider PJ McDonald, a PJA board member, said: “You shouldn’t underestimate the benefits of a couple of short breaks and earlier finishes. They may seem like small initiatives that won’t make much difference but I can tell you they’ll be of significant help to jockeys, and stable staff.”
Gibson believes the benefits will be felt beyond jockeys and stable staff, continuing: "I suppose betting shop staff will finish an hour earlier in that seven-month period, also racecourse staff, so the knock-on effect is bigger than just jockeys and hard-working stable staff.
"This hasn't been easy but the BHA fixtures and funding team have been superb."
With the BHA also agreeing not to programme a fixture on Sunday, December 22 next year, it is hoped the date could provide a permanent slot for the PJA's awards ceremony, the Lesters.
The BHA said it would schedule double floodlit fixtures on Wednesdays and Thursdays in autumn 2019 to test their popularity with punters, which would have the net effect of adding five or six more meetings.
It also hoped the appearance money scheme which pays an extra £100 to horses finishing in the first eight on Friday and Saturday floodlit and summer evening fixtures, guaranteeing connections £400, will be extended to cover all floodlit fixtures.
BHA chief operating officer Richard Wayman said: "Repeatedly returning home late from race meetings, being followed by early starts the next day, isn't good for the health and wellbeing of our trainers, staff and jockeys, and ultimately impacts retention rates.
"At the same time, as the world changes and betting behaviours alter – in particular the ongoing, ever increasing switch to digital betting platforms – it's essential the sport adapts to meet this demand and schedules fixtures and races accordingly.
"We must maximise revenues to the sport and its people by engaging with betting audiences at times we know they want to bet and have few other sporting options.
"It's about striking the right balance and ensuring the sport generates revenue while not asking too much of our workforce. It's for this reason the agreed policies will be put in place next year.”
Andy Clifton, racing director at the Racecourse Association, said: "The RCA fully supports the policies being implemented in 2019, which send out a strong message about participant welfare but also take the need to keep the sport’s income in mind."
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