In the sport of racing, horses — not jockeys — understandably hog the spotlight. To the untrained eye, it’s the horses doing all the work.
- Jockey fitness is being investigated by researchers in a world-first program
- Aerobic capacity and strength are being put to the test
- The aim is to improve their results and extend their careers
But if you think jockeys just need to be small, think again.
There is growing recognition within the high-stakes racing industry of the physical demands the sport places on them, and the importance of jockey fitness.
“The fitter you are, the better you recover… the less fatigue you will get and hopefully the less bad decisions you’ll make in a race,” jockey Raquel Clark said.
At the end of a race, jockeys — who can weigh less than 50 kilograms — will often sound breathless.
Their physical endurance is tested when they accept several rides at one race meeting and maintain a set weight by fasting.
“Jockeys go out there on minimum food and minimum water most of the time, and have to decide stuff in a split second,” Ms Clark said.
“The horses have such a fit regime, they have a reasonable diet, and I think it’s time they realised that us jockeys have to do the same thing, if not harder.”
The Melbourne Cup is a month away, but the research is more about the long haul. (AAP: Tracey Nearmy)
Ms Clark is taking part in a research program in Adelaide which uses scientific analysis of jockeys’ fitness to help tailor their training.
Instead of hitting the track, the jockeys are hitting the treadmill to work on aerobic training techniques.
“They’re not quite at the elite level yet, but that’s what we’re trying to get them to,” said Mark Hartland, who is co-ordinator of the High Performance Sports Centre at the University of South Australia (UniSA).
“The focus previously has been on the horse.”
Jockeys expend energy like runners
The centre is working with Thoroughbred Racing SA (TRSA) to extend the careers of jockeys, and give them an edge when they are positioning a horse for a winning run.
UniSA said the program is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. Apprentice jockeys are checked and monitored by sport science students.
The students then analyse the jockeys’ aerobic capacity, strength and the efficiency of their body movements in racing conditions.
“There’s been some research showing that, let’s say, a 2000-metre race is equal to a 1000-metre sprint for a runner,” Mr Hartland said.
“Imagine a runner backing up seven times in a day over three hours. It would be intense so we really need to improve the jockey’s fitness.”
Mr Hartland said determining the best fitness training regime for apprentice jockeys, especially for females, remains an unsolved problem.
TRSA head trainer Briony Moore said there was a wealth of literature on horses, but said there needed to be much more scientific analysis of jockey training techniques.
“On any given day, some of my top apprentices are riding millions of dollars’ worth of horseflesh,” she said.
“So I think it’s really important to put the emphasis on the jockey as well and making sure that they’re getting the best training.
“There’s a lot that goes into their preparation into a race. They’ve obviously got to do a lot of form going into it, know the field, the other jockeys around them, the horses that they’re on.
“There’s not been this high-level study done on jockeys before.”
For jockeys like Raquel Clark, the training “will improve us out of sight”.
“We’re so scientific with the horses so it would be nice to be scientific with the jockeys as well,” she said.