Champion jockey Zac Purton has called on the Jockey Club to follow the lead of other racing jurisdictions and raise the minimum riding weight in an attempt to bolster their immune systems while the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc.
New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing announced earlier in the week they were raising their minimum weight 2kg (4.4 pounds) to assist jockeys during the outbreak.
Racing authorities in Australia quickly followed suit with New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia announcing similar moves.
Purton believes the same measures in Hong Kong could help keep racing going, with the Jockey Club already going to great lengths to keep the show rolling.
“Following New Zealand’s lead would be a good idea,” he told the Post.
“We are in an environment where we are always in close proximity to people and if our immune system can be that bit stronger by the weights being that bit higher then it is not just better for myself, it’s better for everyone.
“While we are in this difficult period, it might be something worthwhile considering.”
The minimum weight in Hong Kong is currently 113 pounds, with a top weight of 133 pounds.
With a riding weight of 120 pounds, such a move would give Purton a greater selection of rides.
While he is able to get slightly lower in the weights, the Australian said it forces his body to the limit and he is often left feeling the effects of wasting away.
“When we are going without food and pushing our bodies to the extreme with some pretty serious exercise and getting in hot baths, there is always a possibility that your immune system can suffer from it,” he said. “In the current climate, we want our immune systems to be as strong as they can be.”
Jockey Club officials noted the changes by other jurisdictions but said a move was unlikely with the chief medical officer yet to recommend any changes.
“We’ve noted the changes that have been made in some jurisdictions but don’t believe there is a need to make any variation in Hong Kong,” executive director of racing Andrew Harding said.
It’s relevant to note that one of the things we put in place as part of our protective measures to deal with Covid-19 was to no longer have the sauna available in the jockeys’ room.
“There is also significantly restricted sauna access away from race day. This hasn’t created any issues at all with jockeys making weight. Nor has there been any recommendation from our chief medical officer.”
The Jockey Club announced the list of entries for Champions Day late on Wednesday night, but in the current environment any runner not based in Hong Kong can be taken with a grain of salt.
The coronavirus situation continues to evolve and no one has any idea how it is all going to play out but given the quarantine requirements put in place this week for Hong Kong and other countries around the globe, it is tough to see how there can be any overseas visitors.
The Jockey Club has had a tough time with international announcements this season – it was left with its tail between its legs following the withdrawal of a number of high-profile Aidan O’Brien horses just hours after the fields for HKIR were made public.
So while the entries for Champions Day included the likes of Japanese star Almond Eye and defending QE II Cup champion Win Bright, there was no song and dance about them.
In the current climate, it would be a considerable achievement just to hold the showcase event.