This weekend marks the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby, certainly the jewel of the horse racing industry in America. But could the jockeys you see this weekend be an endangered species?
For those that have grown up around the sport, it seems like a silly question to ask. Still, at least one well known jockey thinks that's a very realistic possibility. C.C. Lopez, a jockey at Monmouth Park, tells the Wall Street Journal he wouldn't be surprised if jockeys were all replaced in the future.
"We're talking about drone planes in Afghanistan," said Lopez, who's competed in the Breeders Cup, said. "Is it really that big a stretch to have someone at the race controlling a robot from the stands with a joystick? It isn't far-fetched at all."
Lopez believes a horse controls 95 percent of a race, with the rider involved 5 percent of the time, possibly more if its very close finish. "I might have a role in it. But if the horse wins by five or 10 lengths, that is the horse," he said.
Aside from the horse-racing industry not thinking about such a change, Darren Rogers, a spokesman for iconic Churchill Downs, told the Wall Street Journal "we wouldn't even entertain the thought," he said (of riderless horses).
Others are more openminded about the idea. For instance, Walker Blankinship, the director of New York's Kensington Stables. "It would require radical change from the way things are done now," Blankinship said. "But I believe it could be done."
Ultimately, one of the biggest problems with the very idea of jockeyless racing, is getting the horses to race without someone on their back to encourage the process. "There is no way to teach a horse to chase a carrot," trainer Gary Contessa told the Wall Street Journal. "He's not going to chase anything at full speed—unless it was a male horse and you had him chasing a female horse. That might work." Without jockeys, he added, "You'd have a lot of 1,200-pound objects running in every direction."
It seems that machines replacing jockeys are the most likely scenario, should this fantasy ever become reality.
-- Follow Ben Maller on Twitter @BenMaller.
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