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Jockeys' Weight Issue Is Tough One to Resolve

August 28, 2004|BILL CHRISTINE

Roger Licht reminded some people of those old grammar-school math puzzles. You know, the questions that start, "If one train leaves Cleveland and another train leaves Chicago ... "

Licht, one of the commissioners on the California Horse Racing Board, was trying to get to the nitty-gritty of the Jockeys' Guild proposal that would increase the minimum weight for riders.

"Say a horse is carrying 118 pounds," Licht said to the guild at a recent board meeting at Del Mar. "That's 113 pounds of jockey weight, five pounds of equipment that's counted, and five pounds that's not counted. Right?

"Now under your proposal, if the horse was carrying 118 pounds, that would be 118 pounds of jockey weight and 10 pounds of equipment that isn't counted. So that would really be 128 pounds. Isn't that it? How am I wrong?"

Darrell Haire of the Jockeys' Guild did not agree with Licht's hypothetical.

"But tell me, in my example, how I'm wrong," Licht said, as the exchange heated up. "You're giving us a phony allocation of numbers here."

The guild, which represents more than 1,229 jockeys -- guild jockeys ride 90% of the races in the U.S. -- is seeking an increase in the minimum weight in California from 112 to 118 pounds.

"As it is," said Drew Cuoto, who heads the Thoroughbred Owners of California, "that's 112 pounds, plus the five pounds of equipment that's not counted, which means the horse actually carries 117 pounds. If we went to 118 pounds, plus the 10 pounds of equipment, that would be an increase to the horse of 11 pounds."

By then, many in the room would have preferred going back to grammar school.

Chris McCarron, who left a Hall of Fame riding career to become general manager of Santa Anita, brought up the weights of the jockeys' riding silks. One stable's silks weigh six ounces, another stable's are as heavy as two pounds.

Songwriter Burt Bacharach spoke at the meeting. In June, on Belmont Stakes day, Bacharach had taken out a full-page ad in the Daily Racing Form, supporting the jockeys.

"I'm Burt Bacharach," he said in introducing himself. "Horse owner, and part-time composer."

Then he read letters from doctors on the ills of forced weight loss.

McCarron said that instead of California leading the way, a national rule with higher weights should be drafted, pointing out that it would be chaotic if there were one system of weights here, and another everywhere else.

McCarron said that the Magna tracks, which include Santa Anita; the Churchill Downs tracks, which include Hollywood Park, and the New York tracks have already launched a dialogue.

Jockey Kent Desormeaux was not in favor of that approach.

"When the TOC set up the [betting] takeout, they cannibalized their business," Desormeaux told the racing board. "If we let the tracks handle this, they'll cannibalize the livers and kidneys of the jockeys."

The racing board carried over the discussion to its next meeting, which will be Sept. 16, in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Fair's meet at Fairplex Park in Pomona.

"Our first post is 12:30, Del Mar's was 2 o'clock," said George Bradvica, racing manager for the fair. "If they talk this long about the weights next time, we'll all miss a lot of races."

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