The Jockeys' Guild, in the wake of the ejection of 15 riders by Churchill Downs, has targeted the racetrack and the state of Kentucky in a rapidly developing conflict over what the Guild believes is inadequate medical insurance in many racing states.
Meanwhile, a Churchill official said the track expects to have enough jockeys to ride the remaining 14 days of its fall meet despite the ejections. The 15 were kicked out when they wouldn't commit to accept mounts for the Nov. 11 program.
In a statement released Nov. 8 by vice president Albert Fiss, the Guild said recent catastrophic injuries to jockeys are proof the standard $100,000 in medical insurance isn't sufficient. Workers' compensation insurance in California, Idaho, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York offers much more coverage to riders.
Jockeys are considered independent contractors.
"It is difficult for jockeys to understand how the state of Kentucky, that lowered the tax burden of its citizens off the backs of these jockeys and that purports to be the racing capital of the world, does not provide adequate safety protection and insurance coverage for the jockeys' that risk their lives on a daily basis," the Guild statement said. "If the states of California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Idaho protect their riders, certainly Kentucky, which prides itself in being the premier Thoroughbred racing venue, can do likewise.
"The behavior of Churchill Downs Inc. is morally reprehensible. The depraved indifference of the (Kentucky Horse Racing Authority) and track officials must be addressed immediately."
The Guild said Kentucky jockeys believe the action was necessary due to reluctance on the part of Churchill and the racing industry at large to take "affirmative steps towards a solution to this very serious problem. These topics have been under discussion for two years, with no improvement in the existing conditions."
Churchill president Steve Sexton said the company is more than willing to address the issue, but that one track can't tackle it alone. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association Nov. 8 announced it would form a working group to study the issue of medical insurance for jockeys.
"We're eager to talk with the jockeys, and we still think there has to be an industry-wide response and an industry-wide solution," said John Asher, vice president of communications for Churchill. "We hope to be a part of (a national effort) and take a leadership role."
Asher said about 10 jockeys committed to ride at Churchill. Some trainers are bringing in riders from others states, while some are just showing up on their own, he said.
"We're confident we'll have enough riders," Asher said. "We're not actively recruiting anybody. We couldn't go the rest of the meet with the prospect of, "Are we going to have enough riders or not?' "
The Churchill fall meet is perhaps the most lucrative in the country at this time of year in terms of total purses.
The Guild noted catastrophic accidents involving jockeys Remi Gunn, who was paralyzed after a fall at Ellis Park in 2003; Michael Rowland, who died after a racing accident at Turfway Park earlier this year; and Gary Birzer, who was paralyzed after a fall at Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort this summer.
During the current Churchill meet, jockey Tony D'Amico was injured in a racing accident. Jockeys expressed concern and Churchill pulled the plug on its experiment with 14-horse fields in overnight races.