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Worth the Weight; Jockey Ed Walton Talks New Rule

(ED WALTON may be 5 feet, 11 inches tall but he has been a leading rider at Ajax Downs and operates his own breaking and training business with wife Lynette- Laurie Overton Photo)

Ed Walton is one of Ontario's most respected horsemen (and certainly the tallest) and the former Quarter Horse jockey may return to the saddle in 2017 because of a new directive.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission has revised jockey weight allowances for Quarter Horse racing in Ontario for 2017, raising the maximum weight for a rider to 130 pounds from 127. The directive came as a result of AGCO seeking consultation from the public and industry and receiving support for the raising of the maximum weights in Quarter Horse racing in an effort to bolster the jockey colony at Ajax Downs.

The directive reads 'All horses in Quarter Horse Racing must carry from 120 lbs. up to and including 130 lbs. An overweight allowance limited to 5 lbs. (five pounds) is allowed.'

Previously, the rule stated a Quarter Horse Jockey must carry between 116 and 127 pounds with a five-pound overweight allowance.

"I think it’s a great idea," said Walton. "I wish they did it a while ago, I never would have given up race-riding."

Walton is an amazon in the world of jockeys at a towering 5 foot, 11 inches but since 1989 has won over 100 races and almost $900,000 in purses. His height has made it difficult for him to meet the previous weight restrictions. His last ride was in the fall of 2015.

"We need riders at Ajax Downs. "There were times last year when there wasn't 10 riders in the jocks room and some trainers had to scratch their horses because they didn't have a jockey."

Quarter Horse jockeys are essentially made up of two types of horsepeople: Thoroughbred riders who are doing double duty or learning the ropes before they move to that breed or top exercise riders who are a bit too tall or heavy to ride Thoroughbred races. Most Thoroughbred tracks have a maximum weight of 120 pounds (before allowances).

"We had a similar situation [at Picov Downs] in the 1980s when the maximum weight was raised when there weren't enough jockeys," remembered Walton. "We had (trainer) Bruce Smithers and (exericse rider) Donnie Hunter and myself among the bigger riders back then."

Walton does not believe that a few extra pounds makes a difference in the success of a Quarter Horse, a sturdy breed that races over short distances.

"A lot of the Ajax races are at 220 and 250 yards, rather tnan 400 or 440 yards," said Walton. "So the distances are so short [by Quarter Horse standards]. I don't think it has an effect. Also, I was always one of the heavier riders but I won my share of races against the lighter jocks," said Walton, who won 47 races in a two-year span in 2008 and 2009.

Walton also said there are other benefits in raising the maximum weight.

"I think the heavier riders are the ones that tend to stick around longer each year. The lighter riders will be here for a bit and then they go off and ride Thoroughbreds,"

Perhaps more importantly is that jockeys may not have to reduce their weight in a sauna to make the limit with the increased maximum. That is why the resident of Dundalk, Ontario is considering getting back in the tack this season.

"It would be nice to ride some races and not have to worry about being in the sauna all the time to pull weight. It's better just to diet and eat healthy."

The Ajax Downs season begins on May 7 while training sessions on the track are set to open on Wednesday, April 5.

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