Greedy governments should pitch in for the little guys
Ray Silburn’s fall didn’t look good, and it wasn’t. Dislodged from his mount at a small-time meeting at Canberra’s unimaginatively named “Thoroughbred Park” racecourse in February, 2005, the champion local jockey was left a quadriplegic after being crushed by the weight of his 500 kilo quadruped.
“One minute I was in a race, the next I was looking up at a ceiling,” the jockey said at the annual National Jockeys Trust Lunch on Thursday, which The Punch attended. “I just wanted to move my arms so I could hug my two kids.”
Silburn’s wife left him shortly after the fall. “I experienced deep loneliness. It was very hard. I put on a brave face but deep down I was in a lot of pain and hurt. There are things you just don’t understand with the way your life has turned out and how some people treat you.”
Today, Silburn gets around in a motorised wheelchair. He is always in pain and has an unspecified condition which causes the bloating you can clearly see in this embedded video. Even at this week’s luncheon to honour him and his ilk, and to help raise money for them, he didn’t look particularly happy. He probably isn’t.
Wayne Harris won a Melbourne Cup aboard the David Hayes-trained stayer Jeune in 1994. In a blueprint of the tactics Glen Boss would employ so successfully on Makybe Diva a decade later, Harris cleverly eschewed the traditional Flemington tactic of a long sweeping run down the outside, electing instead to steal inside runs, as Jeune cleared out to win by two lengths.
In one of sports’s sweet ironies, Harris only secured the ride on Jeune at the last minute when brash, loudmouth jockey Shane Dye ditched the mount for the Hayes stablemate Top Rating.
Harris, like Dye, was full of bravado in the saddle. But he was always a gentleman away from the track. Still is. Unfortunately, being a nice guy doesn’t pay the bills.
After overcoming two brain tumours in his decorated riding career, Harris now lives in a Wollongong unit and scrounges whatever media work he can.
He hobbles, slowly and laboriously on his crutches, a legacy of a deteriorating spine condition, which itself is a legacy of a bout of meningitis. No prizes for guessing how the meningitis came about. It was a direct result of the jockey lifestyle, which for most includes frequent “wasting” sessions in saunas to shed those crucial kilos.
“Look, I’ve been pretty lucky,” Harris says. “People think you get a million dollars winning a Melbourne Cup, but they don’t think of all the hospital bills. Thankfully, with the hope of the Jockeys Association and Racing NSW I’ve been able to survive until now.”
It’s Sydney Cup day today. In fact, there are four of racing’s elite Group One races on the eight race Randwick card. As punters cheer the jockeys who win and hurl abuse at those they perceive to have cost them their hard-earned, it’s doubtful they’ll stop to consider what a jockey goes through merely to get to the post.
There are 840 registered jockeys in Australia. At least one, on average will be killed each year. In fact, 310 jockeys have been killed since organised horse racing was conducted in Australia. Tough game. By some measures, it’s Australia’s most dangerous profession.
Jockeys typically receive five per cent of prizemoney, the annual sum of which in Australia was $427 million in the 2009/10 racing season (see page 13 of the Australian Racing Factbook). That equates to just $25,000 for each of the 840 jockeys, in addition to their riding fees, which average around $150 per mount.
For the elite riders, there’s good money to be made, especially when you throw in the occasional owner’s sling, which can be another five per cent. But for most, it’s a desperately scratchy income for such a dangerous profession, especially when you include travel costs to bush racecourses, and those inevitable hospital bills.
The National Jockeys Trust was established in 2004 to raise funds for jockeys and their families in the event of serious illness, injury or death. The fund is currently seeking a significant cash injection of $5 million, to allow it to provide the type of services it was set up to provide.
There are a lot of groups in society bleating ”gimme gimme gimme” to the government, but any way you look at it, the jockeys have a fair point.
After all, racing turns over billions of dollars annually, and generates a whopping $610 million in taxes paid to state governments, and $560 million to the federal government. A $5 million dollar injection to the NJT would constitute less than a half per cent of government’s annual racing revenue. Surely that’s not too much to ask.
There are currently 76 jockeys across the country who are out of action with afflictions ranging from temporary injuries to more serious brain injuries, spinal injuries and other permanent disabilities. Sadly, there will always be more, as long as there is horse racing.
Greedy governments, who are as addicted to racing revenue as the hardest-bitten punter, should hear this. And they should do the decent thing and kick in $5 million without further ado.
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