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By Damian Browne | Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Brownie’s Blog is the weekly blog of the now retired, multiple Group 1 winning jockey Damian Browne. In this edition Damian refers to the on-going problem of general fatigue in racing circles and the impact that racing’s relentless schedule has on its participants in this regard. He warns against underestimating the danger that fatigue presents, on and off the track, and suggests that making small changes, sooner rather than later, would be a good starting point in tackling a situation which is not going to have an overnight remedy. This is Brownie’s Blog – exclusive to HRO.

The subject of the disturbing level of fatigue amongst racing participants is back in the news.

Damien Oliver and Dwayne Dunn recently highlighted the toll that the expanded racing schedule in Victoria (particularly twilight and night racing) is taking on jockeys and they have spoken about the level of fatigue it is creating in the jockey ranks.

Craig Williams has taken the argument a logical step further saying that fatigue does not only affect jockeys, but is an industry-wide problem which affects participants of almost every description.

I have discussed this matter before in a previous blog but little has changed and, to be honest, I don’t know the answer to it all.

I was probably one of the very few that was able to measure and control my workload for much of my career. If I chose not to go somewhere … like Ipswich for example … I wouldn’t go. I also chose how many meetings I rode at each week and I stuck to that … but then I was in a very fortunate position to be able to do that.

Not all jockeys can do that. They have to go … or at least feel they have to go … where their opportunities are. You can liken it to a guy in a cricket team. If he says … ah, I don’t want to play in the game in two days’ time because I’m tired … well, there is a chance of him not getting back in the team if he goes and does that.

Most jockeys are the same. Generally, if you choose not to go to a meeting for a particular stable, they might just say well bugger you then and get someone else in future. That becomes your loss and most riders can’t afford that when they are trying to make a living in a very competitive profession.

Sometimes it is not really a choice.

Obviously where horses go, so to do trainers, stable staff, strappers. Where there are races there are stewards, vets, starters, barrier attendants etc … and the pressure in terms of hours spent on the job for everybody in racing is relentless.

So, talking about fatigue is not an exaggeration.

I don’t think the question is necessarily about whether there is too much racing.

Racing has evolved to this stage and the desire by authorities to maximise turnover by scheduling as many races as they can at as many race meetings as they can to build the product is unlikely to change … BUT … it is in the way those meetings are managed that a semi solution might be found.

What about taking a couple of small, but important steps for a start?

In general, wouldn’t it be nice if authorities scheduled meetings with the well-being of stakeholders in mind for a change.

In particular, the late-night finishes need to be reviewed. Most already finish too late but, as we know, it only takes a protest or an incident or a storm to come by and the meeting can be pushed back even further. I don’t think they should be racing after eight o’clock at night.

It is the same with Sunday racing. I don’t think they should be racing after five. That would at least give many participants the chance of getting home reasonably early and at least having part of one night of the week at home with the family.

It is not an easy one because of the many factors involved in it all. Whatever is decided moving forward the sure bet is that you are not going to please everyone but doesn’t mean you should stop looking for better options.

The consequences of not doing so could be drastic.

In closing, as evidence of that, I will share a story with you.

Having said I was fortunate to be able to control my workload for the bulk of my career, I can also relate to the other side of the story … albeit from an experience a long time ago.

Early on, about twenty-five years ago, we used to have a carnival in New Zealand over Easter. It was at Christchurch and Riverton which was about a five-and-a-half, six-hour drive and they would race on alternate days. I think it went on for four or five days – something like Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

So, we were driving up and down that island after every race meeting. I think after about the third day myself and another jockey named James Bates … we fell asleep and crashed the car. The car was a right-off.

We were very lucky not to be killed.

That was purely from fatigue … so being fatigued is a situation fraught with very real danger.

It can be a trigger for disaster and it should never be underestimated.

Racing is well aware of that … but what to do about it remains the big question!

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Damian Browne
Damian Browne
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