Jockey Fatigue Goes Global

Steve Bennett Steve Bennett
  • Stress and pressure builds even more on jockeys
in-form jockeys Jockey Fatigue is a global issue


The pressures on the modern day jockey are becoming more noticeable after Anthony Delpech told his story at the recent Asian Racing Conference in Cape Town.

Best remembered for his riding partnership with champion galloper Vengeance Of Rain, Delpech opened up over the emotional challenges he faced as a jockey, stating “I’ve kept it in for 35 years”.

During the session that discussed the well-being of racing athletes, Delpech spoke of how he is currently dealing with his mental health after suffering a career-ending fall in April 2018 where he damaged his spinal cord at Turffontein (SA).

Anthony Delpech

He relived a heartbreaking conversation he had with his son who had designs of following in his father’s footsteps.

“My son said to me ‘dad, do you think I should become a jockey?’ and the first thing I said was ‘No’.

He said, ‘But you were a champion, why can’t I do it?’ and it’s the mental [challenges] – I didn’t want him to go through it,” Delpech said through tears.

“We bottle everything inside and we show on the outside how tough we are – we can’t afford to be weak. I’ve kept it in for 35 years, that’s why it’s all coming out now.

“You don’t want other jockeys or other people to know you have that pressure. It’s part of the game.

“The first time I went to see a sports psychologist, I really thought I was weak. After talking, you were like a little baby crying because you’d been holding it all inside.

“I hope racing is getting to the place where there is someone permanently there to talk to, like a sports psychologist, because I think it would make a huge difference.”

The pressures on jockeys today are far greater than they once were, with competition forever growing.

As Delpech pointed out, you have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get ‘that’ ride.

“You’ve got to be so mentally strong because your body is almost giving up but you know you have to make the weight and if you don’t, someone else is going to ride the horse and the horse might win.

“If an opportunity comes, you have to sacrifice.

“That horse that you have to lose 3kg (6.6lb) for might be a Melbourne Cup winner, and that’s what happened to me.

“I had to ride a horse in Hong Kong at 113 pounds (51kg) and the jockey before me, Glyn Schofield, couldn’t make the weight.

“I said I would and I pushed myself and he became the best horse I ever rode in my career [Vengeance Of Rain].

“Sometimes you’ll push yourself for those opportunities that you might never get again. When you’re in it, it’s very difficult to not do it.

“We punish our bodies so much.”

Closer to home, and Australian jockeys have raised their concerns in a similar fashion.

Leading jockey, Mark Zahra has now spoken out over the issue of fatigue and not just over himself but of other riders who don’t have the luxury of refusing rides.

If I tried to ride lots, if I tried to ride every Thursday night, every Friday night – I would ride worse and I’d be completely burnt out” he said on program, ‘After The Last’.

“I’d have to spend so much time getting my weight right for those meetings, I’d rather pick the best meetings I can go to, have my weight at its best and feel the best on that day.

“Some people don’t have that luxury that’s why we’re saying if it can just be brought back to 9pm it just gives you an extra hour, it doesn’t seem like much but it’s a lot to us.

“It’s not as cut and dry as people just to say ‘well don’t go’ it’s not as cut and dry as that, there’s a lot more to it.”

Mark Zahra

Zahra went on to say that just by finishing a night meeting at 9pm instead of 10pm would make a huge difference.

“We already have Flemington jumpouts Friday and a lot of people think jockeys just show up to the track on raceday and that’s it” he said.

“But you have all your morning stuff you have to do and then there’s your weight-loss stuff, so it is like you’ve got sort of three jobs you have to handle.

Even in country areas across the nation, the pressure is widespread with jockeys competing to pick trackwork, let alone rides on race day.

The pressures and stress on the industry has never been more evident than in the past 10 years.

Suspensions are on the rise with rules being broken, all through the pressures as a rider.

With the whip rule coming into play, that just added fuel to the fire for jockeys as now they must be fully aware of how many times they can slap their mounts with the leather strip.

Even in major race situations, the stress and pressure a jockey is put under is to the extreme.

Michael Walker came under a massive cloud of attack when he was found guilty of striking his mount (Prince Of Arran) seven times more than the limit in last year’s Melbourne Cup.

He was ultimately fined $10,000 and stood down for seven meetings as a result of his actions.

More recently, James McDonald was sat down for six meetings for a similar breach when riding NZ youngster Catalyst in the Group One CS Hayes Stakes.

He fell short of victory that day by a mere short head (finishing second to Alligator Blood) and had the result been the other way, things could have been even more interesting.

McDonald was fined $1,700 for his abuse of the whip rule on top of his six-meeting suspension.

Accidents are also on the rise in recent years and in 2019 alone, two jockeys tragically lost their lives.

Accidents on the rise

In November 2018, Tye Angland had his career cut short after an horrific fall in Hong Kong.

Fortunately, the National Jockeys Trust is receiving more recognition as they strive to help those jockeys (and their families) through hard times.

The situation has reached boiling point, particularly in Melbourne where jockeys have to find a balance between day, twilight and night meetings.

Fridays have become a major issue where some jockeys are torn between the day meeting, then Moonee Valley’s night meeting and then having to back up on the Saturday for the week’s major race meeting.

This is all on top of jumpouts, barrier trials and general trackwork.

Damien Oliver gave an example of where fatigue hit him when driving a car.

“I actually found myself driving home from the races last Thursday night at Pakenham, I was fatiguing and I was thinking if I don’t stay aware of myself here I could find myself running off the road,” Oliver told Racenet.

“And I would hate to think it would take something like that to happen, a terrible accident, for something to be done.

“Without a doubt I have seen a real extra sense of fatigue in jockeys lately but administrators don’t seem to see a lot of that side of it.

“They are thinking of (wagering) turnover and trying to maximise it.

“We also have to have a broader discussion about the workload of jockeys because you’d hate to see someone have a terrible accident through fatigue.

“Jockeys are having to burn the candle at both ends like never before.”

Victorian Jockeys’ Association boss Matt Hyland agrees and even he can’t understand why night meetings must finish so late.

“I just reckon the jockeys are exhausted at the moment – it’s just relentless, when you look at Thursday night Pakenham, Friday jumpouts, Friday night racing when you are finishing at 10pm,” Hyland said.

“Then you’ve got to get up and start wasting again to roll up for nine races on a Group I Saturday with high pressure and then racing on Sunday as well.

“At the end of the day, it is wearing the jockeys out.

“If there is no need to be there at 10pm at night, if the industry can’t demonstrate to us what the purpose is of being there at 10pm is, we need to be finishing at 9pm or 9.30pm.

“Even that time saved is gold when you are getting out of bed early the next day”.

Dwayne Dunn jumped on board and agrees the timetable for racing is too strenuous.

Dwayne Dunn

“I think we play too deep into the night, we need to shorten them up those night meetings – finish them at 9pm and say that’s enough,” Dunn said.

“Maybe one thing to look at is to have less night meetings and instead have twilight meetings.

“Twilight meetings do work well for most of the jockeys, they are earlier finishes and you end up missing the traffic both ways too.”

The issues here call for further investigation and possibly a major overhaul by all parties concerned.


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