Issues of jockey health and vocational training explored at 37th Asian Racing Conference


Professor Patrick Yung, Director of the Hong Kong Centre for Sports Medicine and Sports Sciences, orthopedic surgeon and racehorse owner outlined the application of sports science and medicine amongst jockeys in the concluding plenary session of the first day of the 37th Asian Racing Conference on Tuesday in Seoul.

Addressing the conference under the banner of “The Modern Elite Jockey - A Sports Medicine Perspective,” Prof Yung said the application of sports science and medicine, which began in racing with a focus on treatment of jockey injuries, had room for improvement.

“While the application of sports science has increased over the past decade, there is a lot of room to improve. There is a lack of very good scientific research available and we need consistent documentation and analysis to provide the platform for further improvement,” Prof Yung said.

As Prof Yung focused on injuries and associated health issues pertaining to jockeys, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Ms Amy Chan, Headmistress of the Apprentice Jockeys’ School, and Mr Grant Harris, Chief Executive of the British Racing School, outlined improvements in industry training and education with particular relevance to jockeys.

Prof Yung detailed some remarkable statistics on the probability of jockeys sustaining injury through their careers and the risks associated with concussions and inappropriate weight management - the latter an issue which both Ms Chan and Mr Harris said was an important part of their training programs.

“A US study showed that a jockey is likely to have a fall once in every 500 rides and 50 percent of those will require significant medical attention. On average, a jockey will suffer 2.5 fractures through his or her career while 40 percent of jockeys will suffer from a concussion,” Prof Yung said.
However, he reassured the riding fraternity that despite the inherent risks of race riding, the mortality rate was very low at one in 300,000 days of exposure.

“Obviously the most common cause of injury is a fall so one key, for the industry, is to attempt to minimise the chance of a fall occurring. It is also important to focus on the general health and well-being of the jockeys themselves so factors such as strength, balance, flexibility and reaction time are maximised.

“Essential fitness can assist in the prevention of falls but also in recovery and improving overall performance,” he said.

Prof Yung said his research team fitness-tested Hong Kong’s champion jockey Joao Moreira and prominent Hong Kong footballer Lo Kwan Yee with the jockey rating higher in upper body strength and core muscle strength, with the two evenly matched when it came to lower body muscle power.

“Most jockeys are extremely fit, but inappropriate weight management can be an issue. Suboptimal nutrition and hydration can leave them prone to injury, poor recovery, mood problems including depression and Calcium and Vitamin D deficiencies, which may diminish bone quality, especially in the hip region.”

Education on diet and nutrition was outlined as a key part of the training programs conducted by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and British Racing School.

“The hope is to better recruit, develop and retain the next generation,” said Ms Chan, a sentiment echoed by Mr Harris who added that one of his School’s key goals was to “recruit, train and retain.”

Both also addressed the need for such training bodies to provide broad spectrum education and career alternatives for those who did not necessarily succeed in becoming jockeys.

“Our program now embraces school-based learning and work-based practice and incorporates physical training, sports and nutrition science, financial management, English language training and music appreciation,” Ms Chan said.

The HKJC’s Apprentice Jockeys School was established in 1972 with the training model based on those in other jurisdictions, particularly in Great Britain, Ms Chan said. “The process now is to develop our next generation of workforce not only in Hong Kong but also in China.” The HKJC will open its landmark Conghua Training Centre this August outside Guangzhou.

Mr Harris detailed Britain’s rider training program and education programs for current and aspiring racing employees - from grooms and work riders to apprentice and conditional jockeys, secretaries and trainers. It also provides administrative and managerial training.

The British Racing School is an independent charity which works with the British Horseracing Authority in training and education with quality-assured qualification, while also providing support services to the racing workforce via the Injured Jockeys’ Fund and Racing Welfare.

“People are this industry’s biggest asset. It’s not a job, it’s vocation for most who are doing highly-skilled and sometimes dangerous work, and doing so for long hours. We are focused on providing the right training and providing our students with life skills,” Mr Harris said.

Mr Harris said the racing industry would likely become a female dominated work place. “We had 70 females and 30 males in our last training intake and the trend is going one way,” he said.

Issued on behalf of the Asian Racing Conference