"I never made myself sick but I went through the pain barrier" - Jockey opens up about weight cutting in horse racing

The annual Cheltenham festival begins this week

"I never made myself sick but I went through the pain barrier" - Jockey opens up about weight cutting in horse racing

Tim Goode / EMPICS Sport

As punters prepare to converge on Cheltenham this week, one retired jockey has offered a poignant reminder of the other, more dangerous race, that riders face every day.

Today's Sunday Independent reports that National Hunt jockeys weigh up to a stone less than their natural weight, while flat course jockeys are some 21Ib lighter than they should be.

And for 22 years, retired jockey John Cullen was immersed in this culture.

Speaking in the Sunday Independent today, Cullen addresses the relentless physical toil he endured to meet the weight requirements of a standard jockey. Self-induced malnutrition coupled with frequent trips to the sauna were among the worryingly necessary sacrifices he had to make in order to get on the track.

"I had no other choice. If you don't ride, you don't get paid. I was eating very little and eating all the wrong foods. I could get a cup of tea and a purple snack in the mourning and then I mightn't have anything until I rode in the afternoon. I'd have maybe a burger and chips on the way home and that'd be it. My digestive system was f***ed up."

"Because I was starving myself, the body was grabbing onto as much as it could and I was binge eating. I didn't take tablets or diuretics, I never made myself sick to make weight, but I often went through the pain barrier in a sauna for two hours before racing."

The article also quotes a senior medical officer who made a grim observation about how American jockeys reflect on the ease with which they could make themselves vomit in order to make weight.

"Some of the retired American jockeys would say they got so used to it that they wouldn't even have to put their fingers down their throat. They can have a meal, stand over the toilet and throw it up and that would have been the norm."

"Some of the older jockeys would have yellow stains on their teeth from the bile burning them."