Racing: Size does matter out on the track

By Mike Dillon

Japanese jockey Masa Tanaka rides a winner at Waipukurau in Central Hawke's Bay in December. Photo / NZME
Japanese jockey Masa Tanaka rides a winner at Waipukurau in Central Hawke's Bay in December. Photo / NZME

The final race at Singapore last Friday night was interesting.

Eight of the 12 horses were ridden by John Powell, Andrew John, Vlad Duric, Michael Rodd, Manoel Nunes, Matthew Kellady and Frenchmen Olivier Placais and Gerald Mosse.

At Gore, on Thursday, seven of the nine runners were ridden by Kevin Kalychurun, Sha Wahab, Racha Cuneen, Ruhal Beeharry, Razuli Yatim, Wesley Papier and Masa Tanaka.

Are you struck by something unusual there? You should be.

The relative small country/city of Singapore has a population of around 6.6 million, but sits in an Asian area where the population could be conservatively assessed at around 1.6 billion.

Around 12,000 live in Gore, a little more than half the net DAILY increase of the Chinese population.

Yet the race in Singapore on Friday night comprised mainly caucasian riders and Gore's mainly from Asia or surrounding areas.

In the case of our race, you could say flippantly full cream milk is responsible, in Singapore's, well, they are the best available, but Asian riders do get opportunities there.

Statistics prove the average New Zealander gets larger each year and it's getting increasingly more difficult to find and attract small teenagers to the idea of a life in the saddle.

Some of our senior jockeys - Jonathan Riddell, Johnathon Parkes, Jason Waddell, Leith Innes, Opie Bosson, Michael McNab and talented apprentice Jacob Lowry - work hard to ride at a competitive level.

In not much more than two decades the minimum weight has been raised from 49kg to a standard of 54kg, 53kg in feature races. Some say if you made it 57kg, some jockeys would still struggle, but that's another argument.

The South Island's apprentice mentor, former jockey Will Harnett, has a good read on it.

"We basically lost a generation of kids and we've only just started to address that. We go to schools now and talk to the youngsters trying to get them interested in taking on an apprenticeship.

"We get interest, but two of the obstacles is the size of children [compared to the Asians] and the general encouragement to stay at school and get better educated.

"Quite a bit of interest is being shown by young people that have already done those things, got degrees then come back and show interest," says Harnett.

Asian jockeys such as Tanaka are becoming much more visible on the New Zealand racing scene. Photo / Trish Dunell
Asian jockeys such as Tanaka are becoming much more visible on the New Zealand racing scene. Photo / Trish Dunell

The school trips are critical. The children being approached are the kids of the generation of young people horse racing ignored for more than 20 years and therefore are getting little encouragement at home for a life with the horse.

"There is no question most of the best kids we are attracting are the ones from racing families.

"They already have a good work ethic," says Harnett.

Certainly compared to Australia, and many other countries, New Zealand has a higher percentage of female jockeys, the simple reason being they are generally lighter than the boys.

Perhaps the best incentive for the school kids would be photos of the cars young riders, including apprentices, rock up to the races in.

Oh, incidentally, one of the two caucasians that rode in that Gore race was Samantha Wynne - from Ireland.

- NZ Herald

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