riding lessons

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Whether or not you like a flutter it’s a lay down misere that the sport of racing is worth many millions of dollars to Melbourne and the state as a whole.

The latest race results show the Spring Racing Carnival delivered a gross economic benefit of $620 million, with 70,799 new hats being the feather on top of the $53.3 million spent in the fashion stakes alone.

Its money that doesn’t stop at milliners, but flows through the community to moteliers, high street restaurants, cafes, shops and trickles through the bowsers of petrol stations.

The lion’s share of revenue was generated by Flemington’s star fixture the Melbourne Cup, with the Caulfield Cup running second and the Cox Plate placing third.

Approaching National Jockey Celebration Day this weekend (August 2) it is sobering to reflect on just how much is riding on the slim shoulders of the 840 jockeys registered in Australia.

More than half of all Australian jockeys earn less than $60,000 a year (that’s before expenses), but come Cup time big corporates think nothing of spending $100,000 plus first-class air tickets to lure an international celebrity A-lister into their marquee for a couple of hours.

Statistics released by the National Jockeys’ Trust (NJT) this week reveal:

Approximately 200 riders are injured each year on Australian racetracks

89% of jockeys will have a fall that requires medical assistance

9% have fallen more than 20 times

Each year 40% of jockeys will have a fall that will prevent them from riding for an

average of five weeks.

Combined with track work there are almost 500 falls annually.

5% of these falls result in career-ending injuries.

In the next 10 years an estimated 10-12 jockey will die and another 50 will suffer career-ending injuries including paraplegia, quadriplegia and severe brain injury.

In the year to December 2013 three Australian registered jockeys – all female – died as a result of race falls – the highest number of jockey deaths in a single year since the NJT was founded.

In the past decade the NJT has provided more than $2 million in assistance to 200 injured jockeys and the families of those who suffered their last and fatal fall.

As NJT spokesperson Tanya Fullarton puts it: “When you think about it, a jockey weighing 50-60kg riding a 550kg thoroughbred at 60kmhp does not allow much margin for error.”

As a member of one of the nation’s most famous jockey families Michelle Payne well understands the odds.

One of eight sibling jockeys (six girls and two boys) who have notched up thousands of wins between them, Payne has been falling from horses since her dad Paddy first plonked her on a grumpy Shetland when she was aged four.

She has suffered a cracked skull, bruised brain, broken wrist, smashed ankle, twice fractured her neck and mostly recently she suffered five fractured vertebrae, a cracked collar bone and several broken ribs in at a country race meeting in 2012.

Payne is thinking of retiring in the next two years. Now 28 she says she “never wanted to ride until she was really old”, but the risk of injury she still tries not to think about.

If you do as a jockey, you’d go mad,” she once said.

This weekend’s race meet (August 2) it’s time for punters, sponsors, fashionistas to put their hands in their pockets for the riders and buy some National Jockeys’ Trust (NJT) merchandise.

The jockeys after all are the ones who make all the money go round.

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