07/21/2004 11:00PM

Proposal to raise weights debated

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DEL MAR, Calif. - A proposed rule change that would significantly increase the weight that horses carry in California Thoroughbred races was debated before the California Horse Racing Board on Thursday. The changes are intended to address longstanding health concerns among jockeys, who ride at far below their natural weight.

Officials from the Jockeys' Guild are asking for passage of the change next month. But racing officials who spoke at the meeting asked for a delay in order to discuss with officials from other states implementing the rule nationwide.

The proposal, first introduced at the CHRB's June meeting, calls for a minimum assigned weight of 118 pounds for Thoroughbred races, and establishes a minimum body fat content of not less than 5 percent for riders.

The body fat requirement would be optional for riders licensed in the U.S. before Dec. 31, 2003. Riders who fall below 5 percent body fat would be given a warning and three days to meet the requirement before facing suspension.

Apprentice claims would not apply to the minimum weight.

The proposed rule is in the public comment period, which ends Aug. 16. The board could vote on the measure at its meeting Aug. 19. It could be enacted in November, if there are no delays.

The 118-pound minimum would not include 27 pieces of jockey's equipment and attire, a list that includes pants, boots, silks, whip, saddle towel, and safety equipment such as a helmet and safety vest. Currently, safety equipment is not included in the assigned weight, but clothing is.

Under the current proposal, the Jockeys' Guild is asking that a statement be included in the track program explaining that jockeys carry additional weight that includes clothing and safety equipment. The equipment adds eight to 10 pounds to a weight assignment.

To create the spread of weights that exists in race conditions, horses would have assigned weights ranging from approximately 118 to 130 pounds, plus any clothing or safety equipment. So horses would actually carry up to 10 pounds more than their assigned weight. Higher assigned weights could exist in handicaps, racing officials said.

Racing officials are seeking nationwide implementation of a higher weight scale for jockeys and have scheduled meetings at Del Mar from Aug. 13-15 that will be attended by officials from other tracks.