(Pulished in the June 28 Blood-Horse)
The California Horse Racing Board's decision earlier this year to suspend the rule that would allow jockey advertising for this year's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Santa Anita Park was described as "bush league" June 17 by the founder of Jockeys Management Group.
JMG, which owns the marketing rights to more than 100 jockeys in North America, had used Santa Anita's Breeders' Cup as a major selling point to potential sponsors this year. However, the CHRB elected to suspend the jockey-advertising rule for the 2003 World Thoroughbred Championships at the request of officials from Breeders' Cup and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
"It's kind of curious when the powers that be can manipulate rules at their discretion based on their own interests," said R.J. Kors, founder of JMG. "I've never seen anything so bush league in my life."
Mike Marten, a spokesman for the CHRB, said though Breeders' Cup jockey advertising is not specifically mentioned in the statute, it was established in public record the rule would not cover future Breeders' Cups held in the state. Additionally, he said public notice was given, as is required by law, that the CHRB would be voting whether to suspend the rule.
"The Jockeys' Guild was aware and was here to give its two cents," Marten said. "But (Kors) did not come to the meeting and did not voice any opposition."
In addition to suspending the jockey advertising rule, the CHRB also voted to suspend for the Breeders' Cup the state rule requiring horses with common ownership to be coupled. Marten said the CHRB made the changes based on its "total authority" to alter rules deemed in the best public interest.
Meanwhile, the growing conundrum of jockey advertising, which reached a national stage in this year's Belmont Stakes (gr. I), is becoming a top priority among racing officials.
"We have heard from a lot of people that this (issue) concerns," said Chip Campbell, senior vice president of media and sponsorship for the NTRA. "Now we are analyzing internally to try and figure out what to do with this situation. This is certainly a big issue that the industry is going to have to address."
JMG has approached NTRA/Breeders' Cup several times in recent months about forming a partnership, but it has been to no avail. Campbell said the main reason NTRA/Breeders' Cup has declined is because it is not clear exactly what rights JMG and others have.
"I don't know who is representing who. The same day I hear from (JMG), I get a call from the Jockeys' Guild," said Campbell, who along with NTRA commissioner Tim Smith in the early 1980s helped coordinate sponsorship deals for the PGA Tour and its players. "Until the landscape is clear, I'm not going to put our organization in a position of being in a fight. I'm just not interested."