Jockeys living ritzy lives

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor

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SNAZZY CARS, countless properties and one of them even owns a plane to travel to horserace meetings around the country.

So why pay the hobbits of the racing industry in New Zealand any more money?

It seems there's no love lost between horse trainers/owners and jockeys in New Zealand amid an impasse in pay negotiations.

"The jockeys don't own farms and BMWs for no reason," an incensed trainer/owner said last night as the riders on Monday began an unprecedented industrial action in search of a $10 pay increase.

"Owners are paying more and more especially at this time of the year and the blooming jockeys are wanting more and more," another said.

"We get up at the crack of dawn, feed, groom and work the horse to race day and the jockey rocks up and we saddle them before they ride for one minute and 30 seconds, and that's if it is at a good mile.

"I get paid $50 a day as a trainer for doing everything," a third owner/trainer spat venomously before claiming they didn't particularly care less if the jockeys don't turn up on a race day because if they didn't then it would be the problem of the industry's parent body, the New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR).

The first step in the plan of industrial action from the disenchanted jockeys is a ban on media interviews.

The second involves the riders delaying the main race of the day by 10 minutes at specified race meetings on one of the biggest days of the year - January 1.

The third tier of action will be a total ban on riding.

Meetings likely to be affected on New Year's Day include Hastings, Ellerslie (the $200,000 Blandford Lodge Railway meeting in Auckland) and Waikouaiti (Otago).

The jockeys' collective feels NZTR is not taking the pay demands seriously, which would see a $10 boost on their $115 a ride.

Two years ago the jockeys agreed to a waiver in sympathy with the industry which found itself in the grips of a tough economic climate.

In March this year, they applied for a $30 increase a ride but were incensed to find the NZTR didn't respond until October with a counter offer of $3.

Seeking anonymity, the trainers and owners said the jockeys were "the devils you know and the devils you don't know".

"You just bite your tongue in case you need them for that last mile.

"A $30 increase is just ridiculous. The NZTR offered them $3 and they wanted $5 in January and then another $5 in August and then they came back with $4 and they are now not budging," a trainer/owner said.

While they agreed the jockeys made immense sacrifices in starving themselves to make the weight on the scales on race day and risking life and limb on the track, the trainers and owners painted a picture of jockeys as prima donnas who got more than their share of rewards for their commitment.

"If a horse enters a race and a trainer scratches it, the jockey still gets paid $50.

"It's stink for me because I don't get paid but they do and they don't even start," a trainer lamented.

At the crux of the owners and trainers' argument is that the jockeys take home 5 per cent of the stake money.

One said a horse finishing fourth collected $250 but the trainer got "a crap $25" from the stake money while the jockey pocketed $12.50.

With the stakes going down for the past few years the jockeys were feeling the pinch, too.

"That's part of the jockeys' argument because they claim their earning has been going down, too."

Another said when trainers walked into a carpark at a racecourse the vehicles they drove spoke volumes when juxtaposed with those of the riders.

"They all have new cars because that's part of their lifestyle.

"So here I am blooming driving a car that's 15 years old."

Jockeys Kelly Myers, Lisa Allpress, James McDonald and former Napier Boys' High School student Jonathan Riddell, for example, owned several farms between them while Craig Grylls owned a private plane which he travelled in to race at meetings around the country.

Elite jockeys such as Allpress, Myers, Riddell and McDonald "easily" made $4000-plus in income each week from 10-race meetings.

A run-of-the-mill jockey, they claim, earns in the vicinity of $1500 a week if they make two meetings and are able to mount horses in at least eight out of 10 races a meeting.

Trainers were often reluctant to give some jockeys a ride because they "just aren't good enough".

"If you say yes then the owners will simply take their horses away from us because you spend thousands on them so you can't just put someone in the saddle if they can't ride."

The likes of Allpress were often hard to get hold off at times.

"If you want Lisa then you have to book her a month in advance and even then you have to be lucky if she'll ride for you."

Pivotal to the cost analysis argument is also the trainers/owners' claims that ACC levies for stable hands are killing them.

"The jockeys moan and groan about ACC cost deductions but I pay the same," one said as other echoed that sentiment.

Another said: "I pay a minimum of $15 an hour for a stable hand plus the ACC, which is 11 per cent on top of that.

"It's a dangerous job but when people fall to the ground a lot of work goes into it before they fall off."

One trainer said jockeys Michael Coleman, Reese Jones, Leith Innes and Hayden Tinsley got together to "pull the pin" on the Otaki meeting recently because they felt it was "a little slippery".

"The rest of the 18 jockeys wanted to ride," the trainer said.

Tinsley is the president of the Central Districts Jockeys' Association while Jones assumes that mantle for the Northern Districts.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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