Jockeys’ representatives say that a “silver lining” has emerged from the anti-coronavirus restrictions in the fact that jockeys are currently limited to riding at a single race-meeting per day. While that means some are certainly missing rides they would otherwise have had, it removes any question of them having to travel at speed to a second meeting and limits the length of their working day, benefits which are seen by the Professional Jockeys Association as outweighing the cost.
“We’ve had a number of near misses on the motorways,” said Paul Struthers, the PJA chief executive. “Someone was gonna have an accident if that way of working continued. We didn’t use Covid-19 to trial this, the restrictions came from Jerry Hill [at the British Horseracing Authority] and they were based on not wanting people travelling between meetings and potentially increasing the risk.”
Struthers says that a one-meeting per day restriction has long had the approval of PJA officials, even before his time there. “We’ve always felt that would be a game changer, for their mental wellbeing. We know that the grind, the incessantness of being a jockey is a real issue. And we’ve been overwhelmed with calls from jockeys asking, how do we keep this in after it’s no longer needed for Covid-19?
“I spoke to a jockey the other day who was missing three rides at an evening meeting at a course he was virtually driving past on his way home. I spoke to him at 6.45pm and he’d had supper with his family.
“I saw his number come up on my phone and thought, he’s calling to have a go. It was the complete opposite, he was calling to say, ‘I’ve just missed three rides and we have to keep this in. Those rides I’ve lost, I had no choice about it, so I’ve not fallen out with anyone over not taking them.’
“Now, might that attitude change as time progresses? It might do but I don’t think it will.”
The attitude of jockeys will have to be surveyed before serious consideration is given to any change in the status quo, which, without the Covid-related restrictions, means jockeys are limited to nine race-meetings a week. “We will be doing surveys in conjunction with Jerry Hill and asking them more detailed questions rather than using anecdotal evidence,” Struthers said.
“I don’t think it will be universal among jockeys but I think it will be the significant majority and I think even those that might disagree, you hope they see the benefits. That actually any rides you might miss on an evening, you’ll probably make up during the week because everyone can only attend one meeting a day.”
Struthers added: “I guarantee there will be some people who aren’t jockeys who will rail against it.” But he hopes enlightened trainers and owners will see the benefit to them, the PJA’s contention being that such a measure would produce healthier jockeys, riding to a higher standard because they are not exhausted.
Monday’s best bets
Alas, the nap, Arij, is one of a number of going-related non-runners at Windsor, where the ground is now firm in places.
Blessed to Empress (1.30) is one of a couple of interesting runners at Yarmouth, Oisin Murphy being an eye-catching booking for the trainer Amy Murphy, who has been among the winners lately. This mare achieved little on the all-weather over the winter but she was fancied under another champion jockey last time and showed her first promise for some time in sixth place.
She’s 5lb lower for this return to turf and is now 1lb below the rating from which she won at Brighton in May last year. After some early support, she’s back out to a fair 100-30 now.
Later, Alnaseem (3.00) is 4-1 to build on her narrow defeat a fortnight ago, when she was making her debut for James Ferguson after arriving from Ireland.
At Windsor, there might be some value in 8-1 about Melody King (2.50), who may have needed his comeback run when conditions were testing at Newcastle. He showed promise in two turf runs as a juvenile and this race has become more winnable through the withdrawal of Broughtons Gold, whose jockey, James Doyle, is now aboard Melody King.