Every single day, we jockeys take the punt of a lifetime
In a post-race horseback interview on Derby Day, a leading jockey spoke about the National Jockeys Trust quest to secure funds for injured jockeys and their families. The Punch asked top rider Stephen Baster to tell us more.
Every jockey wants to win a Melbourne Cup. But the thrill of making it across that line first is something only a select few will ever experience. I’ve been lucky enough to start in six Melbourne Cups with my best finish being third on Mahler for Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien in 2007. Unfortunately I don’t have a ride this year. For the majority of Australia’s 840 professional jockeys, the Melbourne Cup – and the kind of prize money that comes with it – is the exception, not the rule.
We don’t do this job just for the money. If we did, the thousands of other races that take place each year wouldn’t attract much of a field. And we certainly don’t do this job for the security or the health benefits. It’s a tough industry and full of dangers.
In fact, being a jockey is the most dangerous land-based job in Australia. More dangerous than being a police officer or a prison guard. It’s an industry that has claimed the lives of 311 jockeys (that we know of) and you can bet your bottom dollar it will claim many more.
Because on the racetrack it doesn’t take much to go wrong. All it takes is for one horse to veer unexpectedly, or clip the heels of another, and catastrophe can strike.
I’ve had my own taste of the dangers. I’ve had a knee operation, broken my foot and my jaw, and broken both my wrists. And I’m one of the lucky ones. The longest I’ve been sidelined by injury is two months. Many, many others aren’t as lucky as me.
A good mate of mine, David Taggart was a leading apprentice when I was coming up through the ranks. He was so badly smashed up one meet that he can barely walk anymore, let alone ride. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are – horses are unpredictable – and any one of us could be next.
Then there’s the wasting (forgoing food to lose weight). Trying to stay the right weight is a full-time job in itself and most jockeys will diet and sweat it out at the sauna before a big race like today’s. And as a result, many jockeys face long-term health problems because of the toll wasting takes on our bodies.
Being a jockey may look like a glamorous job particularly with all the skill on show in today’s Cup. But it’s what goes on behind the scenes that needs to be addressed. And that’s why the Australian Jockeys’ Association has been campaigning for more support for injured jockeys, many of whom find themselves in a financial crisis after a fall.
We’re lucky to be a tight-knit group with fantastic support from our state and territory Jockeys’ Associations, who have taken the initiative to set up the National Jockeys Trust.
The Trust helps jockeys in crisis meet mortgage or rent payments, purchase the modified medical equipment they need or simply help their loved ones cope when tragedy of the worst kind strikes.
Many jockeys I know say support from the Trust saved them – their marriages, their houses, and even their lives.
But meeting these needs requires more funding – and that’s why I’m calling on State and Territory Governments to kick in some meaningful funds to the Trust this spring – and help the Trust become self-sustaining.
State and Territory Governments make more than $610 million each year from our industry. We believe a small fraction – less than one per cent – should be put back to support seriously injured riders.
Today all the racing ministers will be reveling in the spectacle that is The Race That Stops The Nation. Let’s hope they spare a thought for the jockeys who will be literally putting their lives on the line to ensure this brilliant Australian tradition can go ahead.
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