26th December 2016
Raye Wilkinson, welfare officer at Johnston Racing, e mailed me three days ago and said, “I hope you realise that you have let your million readers down – no Bletherings for 2 months”.
A slight exaggeration, I think. Maybe five zeros too many there but he has a good point all the same.
I always seem to find some excuse not to do it and, most recently, I have been telling myself that I must save all interesting topics for the Kingsley Klarion as I am constantly under pressure from Mikaelle Lebretton to provide 1,500 words for that publication each month. But, believe it or not, I have already completed my rant for the January issue and I have several bees left on my bonnet that probably shouldn’t wait until February. So Raye and his friend, my other reader, are going to get their wish. Here goes.
It does, indeed, seem to be just over a month since I last blethered about the retirement of The Last Lion and, scanning down this page, you will see that it was a month before that when I wrote about jockeys’ weights. That piece was itself a follow up to an earlier Kingsley Klarion article and on both occasions I gave numerous examples where races were being run with reduced top weights when compared to the old scale of 9st 7lbs for 2yo’s, 9st 10lbs for 3yo’s, and 10st for older horses.
I laid the blame for the mess firmly at the feet of the racecourses who had been given the power to set their own top weights and, under pressure from the Professional Jockeys Association at the time, agreed to reduce top weights to ‘provide opportunities for lightweight jockeys’.
However, I recently discovered, at a Hamilton Park board meeting, that the power to set top weights has been returned to the BHA. I was suggesting that Hamilton Park could steal a march on other tracks by getting its top weights back to the old maximums. They would make it easier for all jockeys, provide more opportunities for those struggling with their weight and, hopefully, as a result, would attract more and better jockeys to ride at Hamilton. But, Racing Manager, Sulekha Varma put me right and explained that courses no longer have the power to alter the top weights in races and those races where the weights were reduced are now stuck there until the BHA does something about it.
So, why aren’t they doing it? It makes no sense. They are commissioning studies and entering into lengthy debates about the welfare of jockeys and horses but they are taking no action. Can’t someone make the decision to get on with it and return the top weights to the old maximums. They might find that they alleviate the problem and that there is no call for them to spend fortunes on further study and debate.