Close this search box.
Close this search box.

What Contrasting Conditions Mean To Jockeys

A column by DragonBet Jockey Alan Johns

I was riding at Lingfield Park the other day and upon my arrival in the weighing room I commented on how bad the weather was. One of the jockeys sarcastically responded that I should write my next DragonBet column about the weather. Those in earshot laughed. I didn’t. I thought it was a great idea. 

And to be honest, it was already on my mind. Having watched a Raceday TV Instagram post I saw the other day, where presenter Frankie Foster was interviewing Tom Cannon and asked “You must get cold [when racing]?”. Tom replied “you warm up quite quickly – it’s amazing what fear can do”. Which I thought was such a good line that I wanted to bring it to people’s attention. A line said in jest, of course. Tom would rank high in the weighing room’s pecking order for most fearless & hardy jockeys. I remember asking him once how he was following a nasty fall that he’d had a couple of days previously, he replied “Yeah, bit sore, I broke a bone in my leg, but it’s not one of the important ones, so I’m fine to keep racing”. (It was his fibula, which isn’t weight bearing apparently).

All of what I write here is what I believe to be the general consensus of most jump jockeys but they are, in effect, just my personal opinions. So, as always, take what I say with a pinch of salt. 

First thing’s first: we love the mud.

Yes, the mud is our friend. The more mud, the slower the ground, the easier it is for us to race. Soft & heavy ground means we inevitably go slower & speed is often the key ingredient in causing falls. So when there is mud flying it tends to remove a bit of the speed, and therefore, an element of danger. It goes without saying that it also helps to have a softer surface to land on in the event that you are going to land on your backside.

The stamina-sapping nature of slow ground can also help to remove some tactical and positional headaches for jockeys. As a strongly-run race unfolds on slow ground you will  see horses, one by one, waving the white flag as they begin to feel the pinch. With the field thinned out, space opens up for those still travelling, thus reducing the chance of “hitting traffic”.

The biggest negative of soft & heavy ground is the mud kicked back and how it affects our vision. There are times in races when the mud is flying that we can see next to nothing.To compound this problem your goggles will also fog up in these conditions.

Different jockeys have different approaches to maintaining vision during a race. Some jockeys wear as many as 4 pairs of goggles in bad conditions and pull each pair down as they go. Sean Bowen wore 5 pairs in last year’s Welsh National but I think he did this more to generate conversation in the weighing room than anything else.

As a side note, I sometimes wonder how horses manage without a pair of goggles themselves, but they seem to.

Rain itself is not wholly enjoyed by jockeys. But because of its obvious link with slow ground it is nearly always welcomed with open arms. For me, I don’t mind racing in the rain, it is actually more of a nuisance before a race, when you are standing in the paddock for 5 minutes waiting for the bell to ring so you can get on your horse. In these instances, I tend to be extra friendly to any owner who is carrying a sturdy umbrella (for obvious reasons).

The wind can prove a factor at times but it generally has to be gale-force before it really affects us. Racing into a strong headwind up the home straight is sometimes not as noticeable as some pundits would have you think.

Hot weather is just not for me when it comes to racing. I sweat a lot in these conditions and it just isn’t pleasant. This is particularly taxing if you have a few rides back-to-back as you rush between races to get weighed out in preparation for the next contest. You just don’t have time to cool down. Racing is more taxing in these conditions. 

Picture this: a sunny afternoon in July at Worcester and most spectators are basking in the sunshine, enjoying a “99” (which seems to cost £10.99 these days). Yet, there I am, dripping in sweat (again, I cannot overstate how much I sweat), dreaming of a damp, gloomy, mud-splattered afternoon in Ffos Las in December, whispering under my breath “take me back to that happy place.” 

Social Share

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Popular Posts

Scroll to Top