TORONTO â€” Wielding a big stick created an unexpected result for Jesse Campbell.
The veteran jockey spent his off-season working for Home Stretch Homes, the renovation company Campbell operates in Chicago with his wife, Allyson. Campbell did the demolition on this year’s project himself using just a sledgehammer and crowbar.
Campbell welcomed the sustained activity, but the manual labour resulted in the 39-year-old Ohio native putting on muscle that forced him to shed roughly seven pounds to make weight for Woodbine Racetrack’s 2017 thoroughbred season.
Woodbine’s 133-day meet begins Saturday, and Campbell can’t wait. That’s because he’ll no longer have to wear three rubberized suits during workouts and spend long stretches in the sauna to cut weight.
“I’m not going to lie, there are days . . . I go, ‘Man. It’s a struggle,’ but you’ve got to put in the work,” Campbell said. “Muscle weight is definitely harder (to lose), it takes longer.
“Honestly, it’s starving yourself, it’s wearing three layers of rubber suits when you work out, it’s getting into the tub to pull the last couple of pounds out. I’ll struggle some opening day, I’ll cramp up a little bit . . . but after the first two days it’s fine.”
Not all jockeys battle the scale. Patrick Husbands, seven times Canada’s top rider who guided Wando to the country’s last Triple Crown in ’03, has never struggled shedding pounds.
“It’s not an issue for me because I do the same thing over and over every day and my body is adjusted,” he said. “I don’t have a sweet tooth, I’ve never liked pop and as a jockey you’re so busy you don’t have a chance to eat.
“The guys who eat are the ones who aren’t busy. This is my profession and I can’t wait to get into the jock’s room in the morning, get into the sauna, play some backgammon and lose weight.”
Campbell doesn’t have to step on a scale to know when he’s made weight.
“I know the way my clothes fit, the way my face looks and how my ring feels,” he said. “Any rider will tell you when they gain four, five pounds they know because your body is so used to being at riding weight.”
Horse-racing is in Campbell’s blood. His grandfather ran a stable in Wisconsin while his father, Michael, is a trainer in Chicago and a former jockey. Twin brother Joel also rides.
After more than 20 years in the saddle, Campbell still lives for big races. He’s finished in the money in 6,550 of his 16,922 career mounts â€” including 2,160 wins â€” and amassed nearly $65 million in earnings.
Campbell was Woodbine’s fifth-leading rider last year with 95 victories from 681 starts and over $3.9 million in earnings. Eleven times he’s won over $3 million, including the last six straight seasons, and over $5 million twice.
Campbell won seven stakes races in 2016, four aboard filly Caren. He rode Midnight Aria to the 2013 Queen’s Plate title, amassing a career-high $5.5 million in earnings that year.
But Campbell never sets his goals in stone.
“If I stay in one piece I’ll get my pieces of the pie,” he said. “I’ve never put a number on it because this game is too unpredictable.
“I can’t think of a year where I stayed healthy and was disappointed.”
Experience has taught Campbell to concentrate on the season at hand and not look too far down the road.
“Oh God, it’s year by year, you can’t make plans like that in this game,” he said. “Would I like to ride five years? Yeah, but I’m trying to get through the weekend.
“It’s a risk-reward game and that’s any athlete but I think that’s especially the case with jockeys because we don’t have contracts. I make my money running first through third . . . You must show up every day.”
Campbell and other jockeys will be riding for less in some of Woodbine’s stakes events this year. The Queen’s Plate, slated for July 2, is the lone $1-million race on the schedule.
The reductions help offset a purse account shortfall but Woodbine committed $1 million to its overnight purses. Husbands said that’s a sign of the times.
“The horse-racing industry all over the world has its problems,” he said. “If they kept the purses up everybody would be smiling and if they go down people are sad.
“But at the end of the day they have to do what they’ve got to do to keep the industry intact.”
Campbell is reassured to have a solid post-racing option, but that comes at a price. Campbell’s wife and daughter will remain in Chicago while he’s in Toronto.
“Last year we made the decision that my wife stay in Chicago year-round with our daughter because she wanted to get back into real estate,” Campbell said. “Being away from them sucks, I mean Facetime can only do so much.
“But my wife is great about it, she comes up once a month for four, five, six days and it’s only an hour flight so I go back when I can. I shouldn’t complain because there are guys in the armed forces who go six months without seeing their family so it could be worse. But it wouldn’t be so hard if I didn’t love them so damn much.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press