Racing ‘weights’ to get
its act together for jockeys

Sep 7, 2004 4:22 AM

Barry Bonds was pencil-thin when he played for the Pirates a decade ago.

Today, he looks like a muscle-bound version of John Goodman in "The Babe Ruth Story."

Even though it’s news when he runs out an infield grounder, and opposing pitchers deserve to scowl when he smugly watches another of his homers fly out of the park before he begins his taunting trot, Florida manager Jack McKeon thinks Bonds is the best player "in the history of the game," better than even the vaunted Babe himself.

That Barry Bonds is the best player this side of steroids is one man’s opinion, but no one can tell me Bonds and his contentious attitude has done more for baseball than the hot-dog eating, beer-drinking, carousing Bambino. Of course, he was in his prime in the Roaring Twenties, when, as Cole Porter so aptly put it, "Anything Goes." BALCO Barry’s best days are in an era of zero-tolerance, confrontational political-correctness.

Times have changed.

Which brings us to jockeys and the weight they’re assigned when riding a horse in a race.

For well over a century, since the days of Isaac Murphy, jockeys have been lightweights. When Oliver Lewis rode Aristides to victory in the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, 13 of the 15 participants carried 100 pounds! It wasn’t until 1884 that Derby weights jumped to 110 pounds and it took until 1920 before all male runners in the Run for the Roses carried 126, the same weight they carry today.

At the California Horse Racing Board meeting at Del Mar on Aug. 19, the CHRB commissioners heard nearly two hours of testimony on proposals by the Jockeys’ Guild to establish a minimum weight of 118 pounds for jockeys riding in thoroughbred and Arabian races and 123 pounds for Appaloosa, Paint, Quarter Horse and mule races. All clothing and equipment would be weighed separately and not be included. The Guild also proposed that jockeys licensed after Jan. 1, 2004, must maintain a body fat content of not less than five percent.

For decades, some jocks have had to regurgitate their food or "flip," in addition to keeping an exacting exercise regimen, in order to ride at the going weight of 117 or thereabouts. Maintaining that standard has created a serious health issue. Just ask Randy Romero.

There’s another side to the coin. Traditionalists such as D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert want to continue present weight regulations, which limits the vast majority of jocks to ride at no more than 117 pounds, including tack (saddle, helmet, safety vest, etc.). "It’s a small man’s game," the trainers say.

Well, it was a small man’s game generations ago, but people are bigger these days. Sure, the late Bill Shoemaker never weighed more than 100 pounds in his prime, and Pat Day is one contemporary who does not have to fret when he weighs out on race day. Exceptions, both.

There is little gray area in this controversy.

Some riders support an increase but not to the degree it’s been proposed. A couple pounds, fine; 10 pounds, too drastic. Some jocks opt for Switzerland’s tact and remain publicly neutral, their strongest statement a "no comment." Still others firmly support a move to gluttony.

"Horses routinely carry exercise riders who weigh 150 pounds in the mornings," one rider pointed out. "I can’t see 128 pounds in a race making much difference."

Horsemen and racing executives expressed concern that increasing weights in California would prompt some owners to run elsewhere if the same rules were not in effect in other jurisdictions as well.

Odds are a compromise ultimately will be reached, but not before other major racing states like Kentucky and New York address the issue and align themselves with California. How a jock can balloon to 128 pounds to ride in the Golden State and accept an out-of-town mount assigned 117 remains a puzzle.

Pizza, anyone?

The homestretch

Don’t hold your breath until Patrick Valenzuela resumes riding. The 41-year-old jockey, currently under suspension for failing to provide hair follicles suitable for drug testing to the CHRB, is awaiting a hearing date.

"Nothing’s changed," said Valenzuela’s agent, former jockey Corey Black. "We’re still trying to get a hearing with the CHRB, that’s part of the problem. We’re just in limbo. Patrick is anxious to get back. He’s in a great frame of mind but he’s frustrated with the waiting."

Valenzuela is denied access to race track grounds, thus he cannot even work horses. Black has taken the book of Justin Kravets, who made his Del Mar debut last Wednesday aboard Nandu for trainer Marty Jones. Black said Kravets, 21, has been riding at Penn National and Charles Town and has won about 700 races in just over four years.

"He’s been a leading rider at Charles Town, which is a bull ring, and that’s part of the reason he decided to come to California, to ride at the Fairplex Park meet (which starts Friday and runs 17 consecutive days through Sept. 26)."

”¡ Laffit Pincay Jr. is still taking life easy and does not plan to get back into racing any time soon. "No, not right now," said the Hall of Fame rider who retired due to injuries from a spill at Santa Anita on March 1, 2002. "I just try to keep myself in shape and do what I do every day, which is exercise a little bit and try to keep busy."

Meanwhile, Pincay said his lawsuit against Santa Anita, Huntington Ambulance and physician’s assistant Del Gadillo, alleging negligence in treatment, is still active. Pincay, who turns 58 on Dec. 29, said he gave a deposition several weeks ago and expects the case to be heard by a jury in January.

”¡ The NBA looks the other way when it comes to calling violations for traveling, but Kobe got the ultimate — a lifetime pass for walking.