Racing: Tracks worry jump jockey

By Mike Dillon

Cambridge horsewoman wants run-in to fences at Hastings and Te Rapa made safer.

Shelley Houston is concerned at the dangers faced by jumping riders. Photo / Dean Purcell
Shelley Houston is concerned at the dangers faced by jumping riders. Photo / Dean Purcell

Prominent jumps jockey Shelley Houston says it's long overdue that jumps riders are treated with respect.

Houston fell from No Quota on the flat during Saturday's $40,000 Animal Health Direct Hawkes Bay Steeplechase at Hastings and the least surprised was Houston herself.

The Cambridge horsewoman and No Quota parted company when the local jumper had cleared the fence near the 1600m starting point beginning the last round.

"I've slipped on that part of the track before," said a battered and bruised Houston on Sunday.

That particular fence is difficult for riders to negotiate.

Because the next fence is to the field's left, riders attempt to get out wide approaching the obstacle, jump it on an angle to their left, which sets up the approach to the following fence.

Houston was unable to come into the 1600m fence at the desired angle on Saturday, which meant she needed to angle No Quota to the left after landing.

"As soon as I gently angled him his feet went from under him on a slippery surface."

Houston said she is not aware of any attempt to aerate the track at that point.

"It's typical of how racing clubs treat jockeys - and I have to say horses - these days.

"There is just no respect. We have to be professional, we get drug tested and get fined for every wrong move, but club officials can seemingly do anything they please without regard to our safety.

"No one likes complaining, least of all me, but someone has to make a stand and if that means it has to be me, then so be it.

"That horse [No Quota] was one of the favourites and I really thought we would win when I was thrown. What about the punters and what about the horse and I?" Houston said.

"I've got a large lump on my forehead, a black eye and sore muscles around my ribs. I could have had a brain bleed.

"Horses can get more badly injured slipping than they do falling. They can sustain injuries that can be difficult to detect. No Quota could lose all form now.

"They lose a lot of confidence when they start slipping. Te Rapa is the worst track for horses slipping."

Houston says the fences at Te Rapa down the back straight and on the loop from the 900m to the home turn are sited on ground that is used only for steeplechasing and because of its sparse use is often very slippery.

The steeplechase races at the May Te Rapa winter meeting would support that view.

"When I was learning to ride with Mrs Browne [Ann Browne] we were taught to make up ground down the back straight on the final lap at Te Rapa.

"You can't do that now because horses are slipping into their fences, shortening up and getting right underneath the fence [close to them].

"Mrs Browne and I were discussing the other day how so many steeplechases at Te Rapa are won from the front and that's the reason.

"Mrs Browne's Havana City had countless steeplechase starts and was a safe jumper, but even he fell at Te Rapa.

"The only way to rectify things at Te Rapa is to have a steeplechase at every meeting during a certain period of the year to put some consolidation into the footing."

Houston says to take notice of how few falls there are in hurdle races simply because they race on ground used by the flat horses.

Houston fears the number of mishaps in steeplechasing will end the jumping game in New Zealand.

"We know a decent percentage of race officials don't want jumps racing.

"They're going to say: 'look how many incidents there are, that's it, finish them'.

"But they won't take into account how many horses fell because of slipping into their fences."

Houston believes the recent hole-in-Ellerslie-track incident involving Rogan Norvall highlights the differing perception of the two types of jockeys. "They made a real hoo-ha over the Rogey incident, and that's fair enough, but we're asked to go out and take on dodgy conditions so many times and no one says a word."

The horsewoman knows she will be criticised for her stand.

"Something has to be done. I've hit the wall - I'm at the end of my tether."

- NZ Herald

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