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They've all lost out by a whisker but why do so few jockeys have beards?

Rocking the look: how a jockey might look with a hipster beard
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Beards haven't been as popular as they are today in decades – yet they have been largely shunned by jockeys. James Pugh investigates. 

Take a walk down any busy street, through any office block or indeed around any racecourse and you'll be guaranteed to spot one. Take a look round the weighing room, however, and you'll be out of luck. It appears beards, although common in everyday life, remain on jockeys' black lists.

Over the years many have noticed the weighing room ranks are notably clean-shaven and speculated on the reason why. Some have hypothesised it was down to extra weight or aerodynamics. Others have insisted some arcane rule, handed down from the old days, forbids it.

The truth, however, is more complex.

What do the rules say?

There is no truth in the longstanding rumour that somewhere deep in the rules of racing there is a sub-clause of a sub-clause stipulating that jockeys may not, under any circumstances, grow a beard.

BHA spokesman Joe Rendall says: "It's a common misconception jockeys aren't allowed beards, and seems to be based more on pub quiz folklore rather than anything in the rules. As it stands, any jockey considering growing a beard who might be concerned about a close shave with the stewards needn't worry."

A few have dared to go against the grain and sport some fluff. The late Davy Jones – an amateur rider and of Monkees fame, no less – had a beard when he won on Digpast at Lingfield in 1996.

Add to that list former Godolphin jockey Ahmed Atjebi and Martin Lane, one of the most recent British-based jockeys to ride with a beard.

Davy Jones, of Monkees fame and former amateur rider, after winning at Lingfield in 1996

Nonetheless, these are rare examples: facial hair remains very much the exception and not the rule. Yet if there is no rule against it, then surely jockeys would follow the fashions of their era like any other professional sportsman. So why don't they?

Traditionalism holds sway

The likely truth, say racing historians, is the sport's long history and traditionalist roots have created a culture where it is frowned upon for jockeys to sport beards or facial hair.

Racing Post historian John Randall says: "Until about 100 years ago it was normal for amateur riders to sport a moustache. In Victorian times it was almost obligatory, being the mark of a gentleman."

Professional jockeys, however, typically hailed from a different strata of society and so were subject to rather different expectations.

Randall adds: "Professional jockeys, even in Victorian times, have always known that it might harm their careers if they sprout a moustache, let alone a beard, because most trainers are so conservative that they would never employ such a bohemian rebel."

John Berry – Newmarket trainer, former town mayor, excellent soundboard for all things racing and owner of a fine beard – reckons those conservative beliefs supposedly held by trainers and owners actually linger strongest in the minds of jockeys.

"A generation ago, it certainly would have been the case that jockeys would have felt that some/many owners and trainers would prefer to use jockeys who sported a conventional 'short back and sides' look," says Berry.

"There is probably no longer any basis for such a feeling, but it could be there is still a suspicion among jockeys that it might still be the case."

John Berry: "There is still a suspicion among jockeys that it might still be the case"

Berry adds: "Realistically, if Ryan Moore decided to grow a beard, it would have no bearing whatsoever on how many rides he received. It is safe to assume the only reason why he does not do so is because he doesn't want to."

The odd one out

With that being said, what was the experience of one rider who defied this unspoken ban on bristles?

Lane, 2010 champion apprentice, speaks candidly of of his experience two years ago when he sported a full-on beard during a highly successful winter.

After arriving at Chelmsford one day with minutes to spare before a race – his first ride back after a short break – Lane had little option but to take to the saddle, whiskers and all. How did the weighing room react?

"Everyone was like, 'You can't ride like that', and I was like, 'Why not?' I got to the track 15 minutes before my race and no-one's concerned about anything – only the fact I can't ride with facial hair.

"It's just not done. Most of them are old-school guys and they've had to shave every morning before leaving to ride – it's just tradition, it's what they've been made to do. So for someone to not to do it, they were just in shock."

Martin Lane: sported a full-on beard two winters ago – but it will not be coming back

Lane says the negative comments he received from the weighing room only encouraged him to grow it – "I just went for it because it was annoying people" – but has doubts over such a scenario occurring at the height of the Flat season.

"It is deep-rooted," Lane says. "The trainers are very much clean-shaven every day, and they expect us to be clean-shaven every day, and that's the way it's been and I'd imagine the way it's going to be for the foreseeable future.

"I can't ever imagine a jockey, or an English jockey, turning up to Royal Ascot or Glorious Goodwood with facial hair, and personally I would never do it. Under a helmet it looks quite peculiar."

Lane worries some connections "would imagine you'd rather be a celebrity than a jockey – you're more worried about your image than your job", but can we expect to see a repeat of two years ago?

"I'll definitely do it again," says Lane. "It won't be a full-on beard but it'll be a nice, comfortable length. Hopefully, people don't see it as gimmicky and just let me do my job – I feel I do it just as well with facial hair, so why not?"

First published September 18, 2017

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Realistically, if Ryan Moore decided to grow a beard, it would have no bearing whatsoever on how many rides he received
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