I think the biggest jumps news for me right now is the new break for National Hunt jockeys in Ireland. Basically, it means that for a three-week period in June, the races are restricted to conditional jockeys and jockeys who have ridden less than fifteen winners in the previous twelve months.
This makes perfect sense and is long overdue. From a punter’s perspective, of course you want your Rachel Blackmore or Paul Townend on your horse but the riders need a break. If a horse has a chance to win, these guys will take the ride instead of taking a break. Mentally, even if you have had a very good season but are now starting to feel you need the break, you will still go and ride a favourite somewhere. I would have happily ridden with a broken foot if it was to get me on a really good horse. Now that they haven’t got the option to take these rides, jockeys have to switch off and just forget about it. By making this clean break for three weeks, the jockeys won’t feel the pressure from owners or trainers to take certain rides.
I think welfare measures like this make racing more sustainable for participants. I’ve seen a lot of lads burn out riding in Australia with so much flat racing all year round. They get fatigued and disillusioned with so much riding. Jumps jockeys bodies especially need a break, you feel it in your joints, your back, your hips. Horses aren’t asked to ride all year without a break, so neither should jockeys!
People should remember that jockeys only win on a small number of the horses that they ride. They take a lot of loses. So, there are a lot of lows in the game to go with the highs of winning. I think every jockey feels the depth of those lows during their career. The days of “just get on with it” are behind us. This should be reflected more and more in the welfare measures being put in place like this one.
This is also great news for the conditionals and those who are not getting so many rides. They put in as much hard work as the top guys, possibly more though they don’t reap the same rewards. It is very hard for a Willie Mullins or a Denise Foster to ring an owner to put the 5lb-claimer who rides out the horse onboard instead of an established name. Now the guys doing the work should get a chance at these rides.
You can do as much homework as you like and ride as many gallops but there is nothing like the experience of riding in a race. The first few times you are stuck in the middle of a bunch and the horse pulls on you or you can’t see a hurdle, it’s quiet alarming. You might have jumped a thousand jumps at home but it’s very different in a race, there isn’t the room, people aren’t minding each other etc.
This three-week period could kickstart the careers of some jockeys and bring some new names to prominence if they come out of it with a few winners. It’s a chance for them to show their potential.
Tote Galway Plate & Galway Form
I think it is safe to say the Tote Galway Plate is the one in terms of summer jumps racing in Ireland, it’s just a little bit far out now to try and pick a potential winner. It’s a real credit to the owners and trainers of the horses that enter and the racecourse to keep the race at the standard it is.
It’s good to start keeping an eye on things from June as a guide to the Plate, the various Nationals and the like through the summer. One thing to look out for is a horse with previous form in Galway and keep a watch on them for the next few weeks. A horse that has run well in Galway nearly always goes back and runs well again. Even a horse that has won a novice hurdle or bumper around the track might just catch your eye.