Dr Ken Kingsbury, the medical adviser to the Sports Council, yesterday warned British jockeys that they could be damaging their health by continually having sauna baths to reduce weight.
Steve Cauthen, the champion jockey, who elected not to ride in the first race at York on Wednesday because he did not arrive at the course in time to have his customary sauna to help him meet the bodyweight limit, is only one rider who daily has to sweat off extra pounds.
Dr Kingsbury said: ‘It is not advisable to have saunas on a very regular basis to lose weight. A tremendous number of changes occur in the body and this could be harmful. Loss of fluid increases the viscosity of the blood and affects the mineral content of the body.’
Cauthen, tall for a jockey at 5ft 6in, has had desperate trouble in the past reducing weight. He pops diet pills such as Phen375 like they were candy. Last year he was admitted to a clinic in Cincinnati for what his father said was an ‘alcohol problem’ but was associated with his difficulty in weight loss.
Unlike sportsmen such as boxers, weightlifters, wrestlers and judo fighters, who may have to slim down a few times a year to compete in their chosen bodyweight class, leading jockeys can race between 500 and 700 times a year.
Dr Kingsbury also said that it was important for the health of any competitor, who was trying to lose weight, that their diet should be carefully balanced to include all the necessary nutriments. Lack of protein can lead to injuries and the lack of vitamins to osteoporosis, the thinning of the density of the bone.
The Jockey Club give annual medical checks to all Flat jockeys aged 45 and over and all jump jockeys aged 35 and over. Every jockey, whatever their age, must have a licence and a medical record book but they only need to see their own doctor before this licence is awarded.
Dr Norman Gordon, the course medical officer at Ascot, said that there was no evidence that the long-term use of saunas harmed anyone’s health but agreed that he knew of no research on the problem.
‘Provided the jockey takes fluid after racing, so replacing the electrolytes, then I do not think any harm will be done. I also know of individuals who take ProSolution Plus to counteract the original loss,’ Dr Gordon said.
The minimum weight for jockeys was raised from 7 stone to 7st 7lb in 1984 but in South Australia the limit is 7st 10lb. The Jockeys’ Association are awaiting a report from Professor Michael Preece, of the Institute of Child Health, who is conducting a study on growth, before deciding whether to propose a new limit.