Watching the scales: Steven Arnold has made a success of life in the saddle despite having to constantly monitor his weight. Photo: Vince CaligiuriChampion jockey Steven Arnold faces a lean winter. There will be no Sunday roasts or hot-pot specials for the Cox Plate winner who stands at 175 centimetres.
The 39-year-old father of three has defied the odds and, through hard work, has become one the most successful and respected jockeys in the industry. But it hasn’t been an easy ride.
Just last week he stepped aside from his ride on the Saab Hasan-trained Lucky Striker at Caulfield. Darren Gauci took the 54-kilogram mount and steered the gelding to victory in the $80,000 Story Landscaping Handicap.
“I have missed rides in the Melbourne Cup and in the Caulfield Cup for the same reason, I had to learn early on how to deal with it,” Arnold says. “But it’s been a pretty tough slog since I was 18.”
And Arnold could be an extinct breed. No longer are riders accepted into the Racing Victoria apprentice program because of their family tree or desire to become a jockey. Participants are now required to have full medical, fitness and musculoskeletal testing to determine their long-term suitability to a career as a jockey. And that factors in height.
The minimum weight for jockeys in a general handicap flat race in Victoria is 54 kilograms. This was set in 2012 following an industry review that lifted the weight with the rationale that the population as a whole is getting bigger.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that the average Australian man stands at 175.6 centimetres and weighs 85.9 kilograms. Between 1995 and 2011-12, the average male weight increased by 3.9 kilograms.
Despite not being able to take rides below 56 kilograms, Arnold has clocked up almost 400 metropolitan winners in his career, which includes nine group 1s.
“Now, through being better educated, you can can do it a lot better and feel a lot better,” Arnold said. ”You want to be as close as you can to your best and I would never like the feeling that I can’t fulfil my rides without being 100 per cent.”
Arnold, at 59 kilograms, rides topweight Mourayan in the $150,000 group three Easter Cup (2000 metres) at Caulfield on Saturday.
The eight-year-old stayer is back to a handicap after chasing home Fiorente at weight-for-age and Arnold says he is sure to go close.
“His form is good enough to win the race. If he shows up in the form that he has been in his last few runs, he will be good enough,” he said.
The country’s top jumps jockey, Steve Pateman, confronts the weight issue daily. In recent weeks he has found himself in strife with stewards for accepting rides for which he simply cannot make the weigh. He stands at 183 centimetres.
The six-time Tommy Corrigan Medal winner was hauled in by stewards at Warrnambool two weeks ago and fined $200 for failing to fulfil his engagement on King Of The Gods, who had 57 kilograms.
Pateman could not make the weight and was replaced by Irish expat Patrick Flood, who rode the gelding to third place.
Pateman was told by stewards to seek advice and support to manage his weight in order to continue his career.
Exercise Research Australia director Melissa Arkinstall says the Roy Higgins days, where all jockeys could eat for breakfast was a cup of black tea (no sugar), and a slice of toast (no butter) with cigarettes and whiskey filling the void for the remainder of the day, were long gone, and jockeys could no longer rely on diuretics.
“There has been a culture shift in the apprentice program and the biggest change is providing jockeys the education and the tools to manage their weight in a healthy way,” Arkinstall says.
The sports scientist, who holds a PHd in metabolism, said graduating apprentices over the next five to 10 years would know exactly how to manage their weight without putting themselves at risk while on a horse that’s travelling at 60 km/h.
“It can be very stressful if they can’t make weight, their whole income is based around being able to ride,” she said.
“If they can’t make the weight, they’re out of a job and you can only imagine what it would feel like to be out of a job.”
Victorian Jockeys Association chief executive Des O’Keeffe estimates about a third of jockeys ride comfortably at the minimum.
“[Those jockeys] say why should the weight be raised, why should we be disadvantaged, we can ride the minimum and that is our good fortune,” O’Keeffe said.
O’Keeffe believes that if a survey of the industry was held, most would be happy with the scale.
“If you increase the scale from here it starts to become a little unrealistic, as far as the weights the horses are carrying,” he said.
Racing Victoria chief executive Bernard Saundry says the health and well-being of jockeys was paramount. He believes today’s jockeys are healthier than ever before and are more professional in maintaining their fitness.
“We want to ensure the young riders entering the sport have the best chance at a successful and sustainable career in the saddle and that includes those with the right physical profile,” Saundry said.