- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2000

Chris Antley cried in the Kentucky Derby winner's circle last year. The jockey had missed the previous 18 months because of weight problems, and now he believed he had finally conquered his food cravings and was ready to resume a brilliant career.
But Antley won't ride in Saturday's 126th Run for the Roses because he is too heavy again. Following a two-month layoff for knee surgery, Antley weighs about 130 pounds 13 over the limit for jockeys. Antley said he's working out in a gym but has no idea if he'll ever return.
"I'm getting ready to get on horses again, but I don't know when," Antley said. "Things change every day."
Weight problems have ended careers of far more jockeys than injuries on the track. Laffit Pincay can eat one peanut and call it dinner. But for every Pincay, there are dozens of riders who cannot stay small enough for a sport in which 114 pounds is considered overweight. They eat one meal a day, sit in 130-degree steam rooms for hours, take diuretics, induce vomiting. Anything to lose weight.
But the scale awaits them before every race. An 18th-century British system still regulates how much weight horses carry. Two pounds is worth one horse length in a race, it is said, and trainers obsess over losing a photo finish because a jockey is too heavy.
Steve Cauthen finally retired in 1997 after fighting weight problems for nearly 20 years. Cauthen, who became the last jockey to win a Triple Crown aboard Affirmed in 1978, moved in 1980 to England, where riders can weigh five more pounds. But Cauthen finally retired after deciding the health risks of shedding 15 pounds each year after the offseason outweighed the rewards of riding. He is now a Kentucky racing official and will make his steeplechase racing debut tomorrow.
"Ultimately, I just got sick and tired fighting it every day," said Cauthen, who now weighs 135 pounds. "It becomes an obsession. Every aspect revolved around your weight 50 times a day. It's hard to have any social life because the last thing you can do is eat. You're just watching others eat and being drawn into the temptation of something to eat. Losing five pounds for me was [almost] like losing 5 percent of body weight. It was basically starving muscle off my body in the end."
Maryland jockey Mark Johnston understands the temptations. Johnston is the nation's tallest jockey at 5-foot-9. His weight ballooned to 135 when he was sidelined by a broken collarbone in 1994. He now weighs 111 and sometimes reduces in the "hot box" to make weight.
"When you win a race, people say you won $1,000 in two minutes," Johnston said. "No, I didn't. This is my life. I put 24 hours a day into making that two minutes, because every hour of my life is maintaining my weight."
Calorie counting, sweating and inducing vomiting are the three most common weight reducers. Riders even will weigh in using hollowed-out boots that are a couple pounds before secretly slipping on a regular pair. Even holding their breath after exhaling before stepping on the scale can mean a quarter-pound.
Many jockeys consume fewer than 900 calories and 30 carbohydrates daily. Breakfast is a cup of coffee. Lunch might be a piece of toast. Many riders wait until after the races for their heaviest meal, but dinner often is just fish and salad. Forget bread or desserts.
Jockeys often rely on vitamins for their energy. Johnston recently found natural supplements that don't make him shaky, but occasionally he sneaks a candy bar.
"I spent nine years learning to lose weight and felt bad," said Johnston, who even worries about the weight of the food he eats. "There were days I didn't think I was going to make it."
Jockeys lose up to five pounds of water weight in the three-room sauna over 30 to 90 minutes. Much like deep sea diving, they gradually move from hotter to cooler rooms to avoid health risks. Many need at least 30 minutes in the jockeys' room to recover from the water loss before riding. Some riders feel lightheaded during races from dehydration, especially during the summer.
"We have to be light," said Maryland jockey Alberto Delgado, a 1982 Eclipse Award winner as the nation's leading apprentice, who started reducing in 1997 after reaching 115 pounds. "It takes a lot out of you to stay light."
Vomiting is so common that some jockey bathrooms have special receptacles. More than one third of jockeys "flip" regularly, and more than two-thirds vomit occasionally to control weight, according to industry sources. Vomiting is considered the biggest health risk for jockeys, some of whom become addicted to it.
Pincay, the winningest all-time American jockey, is considered the ultimate example of weight control. He carries a muscular 116 pounds on a 5-1 frame that easily could accommodate another 30 pounds. He has existed for decades on fiber-filled apples and oranges and 20 vitamins daily. But at 54, Pincay soon may leave racing after tiring of the monastic lifestyle of having no meat, alcohol or sugar since he was 17.
"There were days when I felt really good and days that I felt terrible," Pincay said.
But trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Pincay's determination proves the weight limit can be achieved.
"He is a heavier body guy that has excelled in a little man's profession, but not without great sacrifice," Lukas said. "He figured out how to do it. If we told Pincay that jockeys can weigh 134, he'd weigh 134 today."
Indeed, opponents of raising weights believe most jockeys would simply ease their diets while risking injury to horses. Antley won the Derby aboard Lukas' Charismatic last year, but the trainer is unsympathetic to weight problems.
"Why are we worried about these guys making $2 million a year?" Lukas said. "Tell them to get a diet or bag groceries, because this is a profession for the small guy. If you kick it up to 127, they'll all weigh 127. The injury factor is going to increase if you raise the weight on horses. Speed and weight are the enemy of all horse trainers."
Said Maryland Jockey Club vice president Lenny Hale: "If you want to be a stockbroker, there are certain things you have to do. For jockeys, the parameters are weight and ability."
Racing purists say altering weights would slow times to skewer historical comparisons. Horses would be unable to eclipse track records by carrying more weight. However, Cauthen said race results would go unchanged because everyone would be heavier.
"What's the difference if they change the times? If they all carry the same weight, it doesn't matter," he said.
Several racing secretaries are adding a couple pounds for riders. Maryland lets jockeys add a couple pounds for certain races in March and April. Riders can be five pounds over the assigned weight, though few trainers permit it.
"People would ride Pincay and didn't care how much he weighed because he was so much better," Hale said. "If a horse loses by 10 lengths, it wasn't those two pounds that did it."
Antley lost 33 pounds through 25-mile runs to ride in the 1999 Derby. Certainly, trainers will seek him for the 2001 Derby that is, if he ever rides again.
"It comes to commitment," Antley said of his last weight loss. "You can fool yourself, but you can't fool your body."

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