Are racehorse trainers using foreign work riders because home grown jockeys are “too heavy”, or is more a question of pay, as stable staff claim?

This month the issue hit the headlines when some trainers complained that there aren’t enough “lightweight, skilled” work riders in the UK, so they have to look abroad — mainly India, Pakistan and Brazil.

But the UK Border Agency said shortages in the racing industry were due to “low pay rather than a lack of skills”.

Last year work riders were removed from the Government’s list of jobs where shortages can be filled by immigrants.

George McGrath, of the National Association of Stable Staff, told H&H weight was not the problem.

“The real issue isn’t a lack of lightweight work riders, it’s a lack of money,” he said. “If you look at what some of the northern trainers are prepared to pay, it’s a pittance.”

He added some wages were as low as around £300 a week.

“The hours are long and the work is hard,” he said. “Plenty of the Asian riders are as heavy, if not heavier than UK riders.

“There is a UK-based workforce available, but you have to pay a reasonable wage.”

Rupert Arnold of the National Trainers Federation told H&H that skilled migrant work riders represent about 10% of those directly involved with racehorses in Britain.

“There is a shortage of lightweight skilled work riders,” he said.

“The reason can be seen in the official growth statistics. In the male population aged 18, only 10% weigh 60kg or less — the maximum which trainers would prefer riders to weigh to ride Flat horses in fast work.

“The pool from which we recruit is shrinking, so we look outside the EU.”

A UK Border Agency spokesman said British employers — in all areas — must “wean themselves off their addiction to immigration”.

This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (6 December 2012)