Jockeys are only human. I dare say there is a bad apple amongst the fragrant number but as a whole jockeys are amongst the most hard working and dedicated tribe of workaday people as you will find on the planet. Occasionally one will stray from the righteous path. Occasionally the pressure of driving six digit number of miles in a year for the hope of the one winner that will mark a breakthrough will saturate the brain and the persuasion of drink, drugs or God-forbid cheating becomes a way around the mess that is failed ambition. How anyone of them remain faithful to the straight and narrow of honest endeavour when broken bones and tragedy are constantly at their shoulder is a mystery I shall never solve. They are solid gold troopers and you and I owe them a debt that we have no hope of repaying, as they have a debt to the horses that are their daily comrade-in-arms.
The top jockeys are, of course, well paid for their trials and tribulations and we should not envy them the triumph of having no problem in paying the mortgage and getting their children into the best schools. But what of those lower in the pecking order; the jockeys who ride work beside the stars of the profession, who often as not get thrown up on the less educated and slightly more dangerous horses as no trainer would want to be responsible for a gallops injury to Johnson, Geraghty, Scudamore or Coleman?
Of course if jockeys did not hand in their licenses at the end of unsuccessful careers in the saddle the younger generation could not get the opportunities they need to prove themselves capable of one day filling the boots of the aforementioned quartet. Yet I always feel a pinch of sadness when I realise that a journeyman jockey has disappeared from race-cards to take up a job, especially outside of racing, just so that his children can eat regularly and to keep a roof over their heads. Surely the sport owes these equally hard-working and talented riders an opportunity to earn a living from their chosen sporting career, if only to stop them falling prey to the sort of persuasions that ruins reputations.
I have proposed for many years – decades, I suspect – that these journeyman jockeys, flat and jumping, who ride less winners in a career than the likes of Richard Johnson has rides in a week, could be helped a wee bit, not through charity, but simply by tweaking the racing programme. All that is required to put an honestly earned extra few quid in the back pocket of these men and women is for the powers-that-be to sanction one, two or three races per week, spread across the country, restricted to jockeys that have not ridden 10, 12 or 15, (to pick a number) winners in the previous twelve months.
All I suggest is a small amount of positive discrimination, as has happened over the past few seasons to good effect for female jockeys.
These races need only be of the lowest grade, though some sort of series with a final might also be considered. The sport caters for apprentices, amateurs, conditionals, ladies, racing legends and charity races, why not races for those at the lower end of the pecking order?
This proposal would not cost the sport a bean, and would only lesson the earning potential of the more successful jockeys by an amount unnoticeable to them or their accountants. I cannot understand why those in a position to sanction such a proposal fail to do so. Perhaps the Jockeys Association might think to ask questions of clerks of the courses and the British Horseracing Board. Jockeys, flat and jumping, deserve to be given opportunities to pay their way in life and my proposal is a small step towards that goal.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.