Jockey Safety and Welfare: An International View
Denis Egan
Denis Egan - Chief Executive, Irish Turf Club

Ogden Mills Phipps:
Thank you, Dr. Benson. We appreciate your diligence and especially your efforts to implement the National Uniform Medication Program.

Denis Egan is chairman of the European Medical Officers Group and the International Conference for the Health, Safety, and Welfare of Jockeys. He’s also a member of the Executive Committee and International Federation of Horseracing Authorities and the committee for the Harmonization of Raceday Rules.

We’re grateful that Denis has made this long trip from Ireland to present to you this morning.

Denis Egan:
Thank you very much, Mr. Phipps. It’s a great honor for me to be here. Thank you very much. I’m addressing you this morning in my capacity as chief executive of the Irish Turf Club and also as chairman of the International Conference of the Health, Safety and Welfare of Jockeys.

For any of you that don’t know, the Irish Turf Club is the oldest racing regulation authority in the world and was established in 1790. The International Conference for the Health Safety and Welfare of Jockeys was first held in 2006, and it’s a biennial conference which is held under the auspices of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. The last two conferences were held at Monmouth Park, and the next conference is scheduled for Hong Kong in September 2015.

The fact that I have been honored with an invitation to give an international view on jockey safety and welfare just shows the increased emphasis that is now being placed on this whole area by racing authorities throughout the world, but especially here in the USA.

Racing safety and welfare has been steadily improving over the past few years. This is due to the collaboration of The Jockey Club with the Jockeys’ Guild, and the introduction of such initiatives as the Jockey Health Information System, the Jockey Injury Database and ImPact Baseline Testing, and you’ve already heard Laura [Barillaro] this morning referring to the importance of each of these.

I would also like to acknowledge the code of standards of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance and the role it plays in improving safety standards.

Jockey safety and welfare has come a long way internationally in the past 25 years. In my own country, in that period we’ve seen a number of safety initiatives introduced. Some of the initiatives include the raising of the median and minimum weights, the mandatory use of safety equipment which meets the designated European standard. An annual safety review which is attended by the representatives of the Jockeys and Trainers Associations.

The attendance of a Turf Club doctor at all race meetings who must have completed an improved pre‑hospital trauma course, and the introduction of stringent criteria that jockeys must meet before being licensed.

In addition, there is a mandatory standing down period for concussions, and there is regular alcohol and drug testing. Here you have already addressed many of these areas through the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance Code of Standards.

We have also been carrying out research with jockeys since 2004 in conjunction with Dublin City University, covering weight structures, bone density, hydration and diet. This research has been used as a basis for raising weights and to implement actions to correct the health deficiencies identified.

Following the research, it is now mandatory for all apprentice jockeys to attend an annual day‑long Jockeys Educational Program which includes sessions on sports psychology, nutrition, and exercise. During the program, Dexa scanning is also carried out on each apprentice to assess bone density and body fat composition. This year alone 40 apprentice jockeys attended the course.

Here’s a short excerpt from the video which was produced to encourage the apprentices to make weight safely. The actual video is 11 minutes long, but just a minute and a half for you to get some flavor of what’s involved.


What I have highlighted is what we do in Ireland; however, programs like this are common internationally. In my presentation today, I will focus on four of the areas which are regarded as the most critical in the context of jockeys health, safety and welfare. The areas are concussion, medical fitness to ride, testing for banned substances, and catastrophic injury benefit.

The first area I will touch on is concussion. Most of the racing nations now have a concussion management system in place. Statistics from the British Horseracing Authority collected over a 20‑year period show the incidence of concussion in flat racing is 17 per 1,000 hours of participation.

Contrast this to other contact sports, which is rugby union, which is a concussion rate of 3.9, and professional boxing which has a rate of 13.2, and you realize just how high the concussion rate is in our sport. In simple terms, two in every 100 falls results in a concussion. There are two very important messages which are relevant to racing are in any sport where there are concussions. The first is returning to sport immediately after a concussion is unacceptable.

Secondly, the decision to return to sport can only be made by a suitably qualified health care professional after an appropriate examination and evaluation of the individual.

Great progress has been made here in the USA in the past year, as I said, with the introduction of the ImPact Baseline Testing with the cooperation of The Jockey Club and the Jockeys’ Guild.

However, for the program to work, there must be uniform support from all of the racetracks, regulators and industry participants including jockeys. It is also vital that racecourse medical officers are skilled in trauma. Concussion is probably the biggest jockey health related issue that the industry faces today. As an industry, we must protect the riders and indeed ourselves.

The second area I want to touch on is medical fitness to ride. Race riding has been described as an activity that requires each and every jockey to exercise physical skills and judgment of an extremely high order.

Any failure in the jockey’s performance may not only put his or her life in danger, but may also put others at risk of injury, disability or even deaths.

With the internationalization of racing where jockeys ride on different continents, sometimes on consecutive days, there has been a major drive internationally to ensure that the medical standards provided in each country when granting a license is to make certain all jockeys meet the same medical standards regardless of where they’re licensed.

Best practice internationally dictates there should be rigorous medical checks in place before a license is granted. It is critical that this occurs.

The third area I want to touch on is testing for banned substances. Drug and alcohol testing is carried often on a regular basis in most countries. Here in Ireland we carry out 160 drug tests and 1,000 alcohol breath tests. We have on average four drug positive results, and the positives are split 50‑50 between diuretics which are taken for the purposes of losing weight and other drugs.

One thing that we have noticed is that if a rider tests positive for what would be regarded as an addictive drug such as cocaine, amphetamine or cannabis, there is a very high chance of him being found positive a second time. Most of the positives we detect are found in apprentices and jockeys who do not ride on a regular basis.

I am aware there is a concern here that some riders return to race riding before they’re healed by using prescription medication to cope with the pain of race related injuries simply because they’re not receiving adequate compensation during the time of the injury.

I’m also aware that there is a perception that diuretics are used by riders to reduce or maintain weight. The ongoing use of prescription drugs and diuretics is not good for a rider’s health. It would be great if there could be a uniform approach to drug testing from state to state and rules must be enforced. We all know risks and liabilities are substantially increased if a jockey handling a horse is impaired in any manner.

These are risks that can be managed with a robust testing system.

The final area I want to talk about is probably one of the most critical, and it is welfare, and the importance of ensuring that there is adequate funding in place to look after injured riders. I will start with a story.

Back in 1997, a young Irish jockey, Shane Broderick, who was a jump jockey who was left paralyzed from the head down from a fall. At the time there was no insurance, and while there were some benevolent funds in place, they did not have enough reserves to meet their own demands and to look after Shane. A major fund-raising drive took place, and over $1.5 million was raised to look after Shane’s care.

Subsequent to Shane’s injury, the industry came together and agreed it was wrong for a sport which was regarded as cash‑rich by many that it should have to resort to shaking buckets to provide for jockeys that suffered a catastrophic injury.

As a result a new fund called the Jockey’s Emergency Fund was set up. It is primarily funded through a 1% levy on source on prize money which on an annual basis raises about $650,000. The prize money deduction is mandatory and incorporated into the rules.

It is fully supported by the owners, trainers and jockeys associations.

The fund provides benefit to any jockey who suffers paralysis from a race riding accident which results in that jockey requiring 24/7 care. Thankfully, up to 2013, the fund had no beneficiaries other than Shane. However, in a 12‑day period last year, two jockeys suffered paralysis from falls. Both are now beneficiaries of the fund.

Even though the fund had plenty of reserves, the industry came together to reinforce the fund and a number of fundraising events were held. I want to refer in particular to one fundraising event held at Limerick Racecourse. All the proceeds from the race meeting including media rights money and associated functions were donated to the fund.

You might not believe this, but over $1 million was raised that day. What the day showed was what can be achieved if all sections of the industry cooperate for a good cause.

I know that funding for disabled jockeys may not be as good here as it is in other countries. But if a country as small as Ireland can raise $1 million on a single race day for jockeys, there has to be a huge scope for a country as large as the USA to raise many multiples more.

With regard to disabled jockeys, I want to acknowledge the work of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, and the work they do with limited resources. They look after 60 or so jockeys, but they do not have a guaranteed source of income.

The Jockeys Emergency Fund in Ireland has been successful because it has a guaranteed source from the 1% prize money level. I wonder has the question ever been asked here: what a similar levy on prize money would do for disabled jockeys if it was introduced?

Even if the levy was introduced for five years followed by a step down and financial plan, the PDJF could raise the necessary principals and endowment to make the fund self‑sustaining.

That is surely worthy of further consideration.

In conclusion, international standards for jockeys safety and welfare are improving the whole time. As regulators and governing bodies we need to protect the jockeys and work with them. They need to work with us in their own interests. Great results have been achieved where this has occurred.

I recently went to a retirement lunch for Dr. Michael Turner who was the chief medical officer of the British Horseracing Authority for over 20 years. He’s been the pioneer of many of the health and safety initiatives in racing.

At the end of the dinner, the Professional Jockeys Association made a presentation to Dr. Turner which was a caricature of him. The inscription at the bottom of it said it all. It simply said: "Thanks, Doc, for helping to save us from ourselves."

I cannot come up with a more apt description of a role of regulators in the area of jockey health, safety and welfare.

Thank you for your attention.

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