Keith Donoghue’s Weekly Blog: Why Racing Weights Should Rise

By Keith Donoghue
 |  7 mins
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Keith Donoghue’s Weekly Blog: Why Racing Weights Should Rise

Another week passes by and it's another step forward towards the proper jumps season.

Over the next few weeks we really start to turn the screw with the horses here in Gordon's yard. When they first come back from their summer break we would only be trotting for a month or six weeks, steadily building up fitness ahead of the upcoming season.

We then start raising the level of work, and then once they are getting fitter we can start jumping away with them. It's safer to jump them when they are a bit less fat for obvious reasons!

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Starting Schooling

It's around now you really start to take notice of the novice chasers and hurdlers in the yard.

A fall early in schooling can knock a horses confidence, but at home I actually like to see a novice make a mistake as it gives them a bit of respect for the obstacles and makes them think that bit more about what they're doing.

No matter what, every single horse will make a mistake in their career, and it's good to get it out of the way early, preferably without falling obviously.

My Own Season Ahead

I don't tend to set myself targets, but if I got 10-15 winners in a season I'd be very happy, especially when you consider how much my weight can limit me.

Obviously, with my weight, it's harder to get outside rides. 11-4 (11 stone and 4 pounds) is the lowest weight I can do, so this means I struggle to get any rides in handicaps straight away.

The only hope I have in handicaps is when Gigginstown might have a horse they are not claiming off up towards the top, or when the likes of Ronald Pump comes along for Matthew Smith who won when high in the weights.

I'm more hoping to pick up a few in maidens and beginners chases etc. Good spare rides in graded races for Gordon is where I tend to pick up my better opportunities, and I just have to keep going.

The lowest I've done of late was 11-2 at Fairyhouse on Sizing Rome as I really believed this horse would win, which he did, but doing that isn't easy at all. I wake up 11-7 most days so to get down to 11-2 I had to be very strict on my diet and everything else.

To do 11-4 I can't really eat, but I can stay well hydrated. However, to do 11-2 I have to be 11 stone so I've that bit more to lose and it can really take its toll.

The problem with going down to 11 stone is that this affects my weight for nearly a month afterward - once I drink or eat anything after dieting like this my weight will rocket back up again.

It takes 24 hours at least to lose a few pounds, and about 12 minutes to put it all back on!

Weight Issues

At times my weight problems can be hard to take.

If I was able to do 10-13 I could've won the first Grand National on Tiger Roll, and every day when there is racing on you have horses who win that I could've rode, but I simply can't get down low enough to be able to.

It's hard dealing with the weight every day, without the added kicker of missing winners!

It wasn't always like this either, as I was able to ride at 8-11 as a 16-year-old and was claiming 7 pounds off handicappers for Gordon over in Perth when I was around 18. I had my main growth spurt at 20, which meant I was naturally carrying more weight and after I broke my femur at 21 I shot up to 13 stone. It's been a tough battle against the scales ever since.

You have to be on top of it 24 hours a day and if you eat something bad you feel terrible as you know it will affect it! If I have a weekend off and eat three normal meals, like a typical healthy human being, I can put on 7-10 pounds!

The general public just doesn't get to view this side of being a jockey. They see Keith Donoghue on the racecard with only two rides on a Saturday, but there's a big reason behind that.

Saying all that I've won twice at the Cheltenham Festival, a Grade One and there's plenty of jockeys who'd swap places with me. That's life, it's never perfect for anyone.

A good friend of mine Paul Bannon is a very light jockey and I always say to him that "if I had your weight I'd be flying", and he always replies "if I had your ability, I'd be flying!".

Walking Away In 2017

Mentally or physically I wasn't in a great place when I walked away in 2017, but I had to stop as my body just couldn't keep doing it. I was up at 12 stone and my weight was even going up higher from that despite my best efforts. It all just got on top of me and I just couldn't put myself through it anymore.

It was a difficult time, and missing the ride on Labaik to win at Cheltenham made it even harder.

Gordon just got onto me saying that even if I could only do 11-12 he wanted me back once I'd given myself a break my weight settled down.

If I didn't have belief in my own ability and if I didn't have Gordon, I don't think I'd still be a jockey.

As well as Gordon, I'm very grateful to the likes of Matthew Smith, Jim Dreaper, Gavin Cromwell, Stevie Mahon, Dermot McLaughlin and plenty more who always support me when possible.

I realise now that it's only weight and I'm far more relaxed about it all.

90% of it is mental - if you're getting up to lose 5 or 6 pounds and you're not in the right mindset it's very tough, but if you're getting up to lose that same weight for a horse like Tiger Roll, you'd run all day!

Increasing The Minimum Riding Weight

I'm definitely in favour of increasing the minimum riding weight in racing.

I'm in the weighing room 10 years or so now, and as the years go on the young jockeys starting out are getting bigger, and struggling more and more with their weight.

It was only when I got to 20 or 21 that I started to struggle, but these young lads are only 18 and they are in the sauna beside me battling to lose a few pounds every day!

It's not good for a young person mentally or physically as you don't stop growing until you are 23 or 24. The simple fact is that everybody is bigger nowadays, as food and training is much better from a younger age. Horses are carrying bigger weights at home anyway, so I don't think it would affect them either.

There is no reason you couldn't put every weight up 5 or 6 pounds, with the top weight in a maiden being 12-4 and you could easily make the bottom weight in a handicap 10-2, instead of 9-10 like it is now.

This won't benefit me, as you'd probably have to cut off one of my legs for me to get down to 10-2, but it will help young jockeys starting out. Mentally and physically it's very tough to be making weight for a race. I've been through it and starting that struggle so young is not good for anyone.

In every sport now younger players are coming through much bigger and stronger, and the same is happening in racing. This has to be reflected in the minimum weights in my opinion.

Twitter Q&A

David Weldon (@theweldon88) asked: Will Ben Dundee be targeted at all the big handicaps this year? What is plan for Vision D'honneur?

We were very happy with him at Cheltenham, David, as he ran a blinder behind the very good winner A Plus Tard. There is a big pot in him off this mark, but I haven't heard just yet what the plan is for him. I imagine his year will be built around Cheltenham.

Vision D'honneur, unfortunately, has had a setback and I'm not sure if or when we'll see him this season.

Aaron Stone (@ads25490) asked: How’s Malone Road doing after his injury setback? Look forward to seeing him over a hurdle.

He's very well Aaron, I rode him in a schooling race in Tipperary yesterday and he jumped brilliantly. He gave me a great feel and is going the right way.

Tom (@TommyOwl87) asked: Is Commander Of Fleet out for the season?

He is, unfortunately, which is a massive pity.

John (@JeJohnelwell) asked: How good do you think Wide Receiver could be?

He's a nice horse, John. He's very chilled out and is the type who doesn't show an awful lot at home. He's a little bit behind the others as he was a bit weak when he arrived last season and was given a good break. He won his point-to-point very well and we're hopeful he will be a very good horse as he has filled out very well after his break.

Chris Cairns (@Cairnsy1975) asked: "Is Malone Road likely Supreme horse and Envoi Allen the Ballymore?"

I'd think so Chris. Envoi Allen is not slow, but Malone Road does look the speedier horse for 2m. Envoi can go up in trip no problem, as you're not going to put the two of them together.

John Wilson (@JSHWILSON) asked: "Plans for Felix Desjy?"

He's a proper 2m chaser and a brilliant jumper, John. We always thought a lot him, but we got the tactics wrong on him a few times, ran him over 2m and a 1/2m and ran him on soft ground and none of that suited him.

If he gets a bit of nice ground, 2m over fences and they'll be doing very well to stick with him!

James (@Goonyella_) asked: "Battleoverdoyen alright after his knock in the spring? Novice chasing?"

He will be going chasing and he is looking very well in himself of late. Disappointed us at Cheltenham, but he boiled over a bit on the day and wasn't right after his knock as you said James.

He's a fine big horse and chasing was always going to be his game. He could be one to aimed at a Drinmore potentially. He's not a slow horse, but any distance will suit him as he has plenty of class.

Editor Note: Felix Desjy is currently a best priced 16/1 shot with Unibet for the Arkle Chase with BetVictor.

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Keith Donoghue is one of the top National Hunt jockeys in the world, famed for his partnership with Tiger Roll winning two Cross Country Chases at the Cheltenham Festival. Keith also boasts a Grade 1 winner over fences, and is a great writer to boot. Keith covered the day to day of being a jockey in his weekly blog exclusive to Bookmakers.

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