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What's the Deal with Racing Silks?

Have you ever watched a horse race and wondered how to tell the horses apart?

Let’s face it — running in a pack like that they all look pretty much the same. That’s where racing silks come in!

(By the way, one reason I really like watching Rachel Alexandra race was her unique blaze — an upside down exclamation point with a bite taken out of it — which made her easy to spot in a crowd.)

Racing silks are the colorful tops jockeys wear. You might think that each jockey has his (or her) own pattern, but in fact the pattern identifies the horse’s owner, rather than the jockey. 

 

Each pattern has to be unique; no two owners can have the same one. This helps both spectators and even race announcers identify each horse in the middle of a race.

 

Patterns often are registered, either with the New York Jockey Club, or with the racing authority in a given state, to make sure there is no duplication.

Racing silks were originally made from silk because it was a very lightweight material. In racing no one wants even a fraction of an ounce of extra weight. These days the fabric is typically nylon or lycra, also lightweight but easier to clean.

Racing silks come in every color, but only one size: small. Most jockeys weigh around 110 pounds.

What else do jockeys wear? They wear a helmet, obviously, and that also has a covering on it that coordinates with their racing silks. If an owner has more than one horse running in the same race, then the jockeys wear different patterned helmet covers.

 

Jockeys also wear a protective vest under their silks that protects them if they fall and/or get kicked by a horse. They wear jodphurs, or pants. Their jodphurs must be white.  Jockeys wear tall boots that also protect them in case of an accident.

 

In order to protect their eyes, jockeys wear goggles. Most jockeys will wear several pairs if the track is muddy. That way, when the top pair gets covered in mud they can peel them off (they hang around their neck) and uncover a clean pair. Jockeys can go through four pairs of goggles or more in a single muddy race.

 

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