Updated on 09/17/2011 8:49PM

CHRB decides to raise weights for jockeys

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The California Horse Racing Board voted unanimously on Thursday to raise the minimum weights that horses carry in Thoroughbred races in California from 112 to 116 pounds, and to establish a minimum body-fat content for jockeys.

But the rule changes are several months from being implemented and face stiff opposition from racing secretaries at the Southern California tracks, who called for more study.

In testimony before the board, the racing secretaries said the planned rule changes will create havoc in the scale of weights and could lead to horses being shipped out of California by horsemen who do not want their horses carrying more than 130 pounds.

The planned rule changes are now subject to a 45-day public comment period, during which officials with the CHRB, racetracks, and the Jockeys' Guild said they plan to meet.

In the spring, the issue will come before the board for further review. Any changes would lead to more delays; if there were none, the proposal would face a final vote before the board. If approved, the rule changes would be forwarded to the state office of administrative law for legal analysis, a process that could take two months.

The rule changes are intended to address long-standing health concerns among jockeys, who ride at far below their natural weights.

The issue has been widely discussed for the last year. Last summer, a raise in weights to 118 pounds was considered, but the board called for further study.

The 116-pound minimum would not include 27 pieces of a jockey's equipment and attire, such as pants, boots, silks, whip, saddle towel, saddle, and safety equipment such as a helmet and safety vest. Currently, clothing is included in a rider's weight, but safety equipment is not.

Assigned weights in most races would range from 116 pounds to the high 120's, plus any clothing or safety equipment. Horses would actually carry up to 10 pounds more than their assigned weights.

Tom Robbins, Del Mar's director of racing, said the rule change could result in horses being shipped to other circuits.

"We have a state that is teetering right now," he said, referring to a declining horse population. "I think there is a lot of confusion. I think there are many more questions that need to be asked before we go down this path. We are in favor of doing something that is right for the human athlete."

CHRB chairman John Harris said that if the board did not act, the Jockeys' Guild was prepared to ask the state legislature to act.

"I think the CHRB is a better vehicle because it will give us more flexibility," he said.

The rule change would require male riders to maintain a 5 percent body-fat content, and female riders to have a 10 percent body-fat content. Body-fat levels are thought to be one indicator of the overall health of an athlete. Riders with a body-fat content 1 percentage point below the minimum would be warned, and would face suspension if they did not reach the minimum within three days.

The rule change calls for daily body-fat tests for riders, but Craig Fravel, Del Mar's executive vice president, said that is unnecessary, citing NCAA documents that state that college wrestlers are tested only twice a year.