One sport has made international headlines recently for switching to robotic jockeys. It’s not horse racing but camel racing. For centuries, young children were forced to endure cruel conditions in order to pilot racing camels. That practice has been mostly stopped due to the successful introduction of remote-controlled robot jockeys, which is basically a box with a whip.
This leads to the inevitable question – will horseracing ever use robots instead of human jockeys? In the future, when we read about Caulfield cup results, will we read about the horse, trainer, owner and robot? Probably not for a long, long time.
Not a New Idea
The idea for replacing humans with robots in racing is not a new one. There was a much-ignored and ridiculed plan for robot jockeys back in the 1920s. For example, at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1922, a horse named radio raced on exhibition with a robot jockey. The robot was controlled by Radio’s trainer, safely ensconced in the stands.
The idea was picked up again by the now-defunct technical magazine Radio-craft. In 1945, it predicted that all jockeys in American flat racing would be replaced with robots controlled by trainers near the rail. Predictions like this probably contributed to the unlamented demise of Radio-craft magazine.
Traditions Clashing with Progress
Horse racing is a sport ruled by traditions. For example, women jockeys do not make many appearances in the Caulfield cup results. That is mainly because many owners and trainers are convinced that women lack the strength men have in order to routinely ride a grueling racing schedule.
If women have a hard time getting a mount then imagine how hard it would for robots to be allowed in the saddle. Although jockeys often suffer for their sport, enduring numerous injuries and starvation diets, they still want to do their jobs and would protest considerably if robots ever replaced a single rider.
What About the Horses?
Would robot riders be better for the horses? Quite possibly, but there have been no studies done to confirm anyone’s guess. Horse racing is rife with stories of maimed or killed racers being given risky rides. Robot jockeys would never get overweight. Human jockeys also may not be able to see all of the racers nearby, so robot-controlled riders may be able to avoid collisions or breakdowns.
Lovers of thoroughbred horse racing constantly boast that racing is what their horses are bred for. Having the horses carry robots instead of people would surely prove if the horses are running for enjoyment or for fear. Training may change in teaching a horse to pace itself of to learn where the finish line is. It would certainly sort out the stallions from the colts, so to speak, and make Caulfield cup results more reliant on the horse than the human.
Racehorses without riders are also not new to racing. Any past film of the Grand National, the world’s most famous steeplechase, features horses who continue to finish the four-mile course even when their jocks have long departed the saddles. Granted, not all of the horses who part company with their riders go on to finish the race – some will race to the barn instead of the finishing post – but those that do are the ones that punters cherish.
Another race where horses can win without riders is the famous Palio horse race in Sienna, which has been going on since the 6th century. The horses (which are not thoroughbreds) still continue the course, even if their riders fall off.