Jockey advertising may still become a reality at this year's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships through a pilot program being developed by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Breeders' Cup Ltd.
Officials for NTRA/Breeders' Cup are formulating a plan to pay jockeys competing in this year's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park for wearing advertising patches that correspond with the title sponsor of each race. For example, all jockeys in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf would wear a John Deere advertisement. Each jockey would receive a base fee with the winner receiving additional money because of greater exposure on television and in print publications.
Five of the eight races have title sponsors this year -- the Nextel Breeders' Cup Distaff, NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile, Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile, John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf, and the Breeders' Cup Classic, Powered by Dodge.
"We have made some calls to the leading jockeys on the east and west coast," said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of marketing and industry relations for Breeders' Cup. "But we're still a few weeks away from having a proposal we can share with the jockeys. We're trying to work out something that would be fair to riders looking to derive an alternative source of income that does not include ambush marketing."
Chamblin declined to say what jockeys will be offered, but added Breeders' Cup was "interested in working with the riders as long as it provides maximum value to our sponsors."
Jockey advertising is allowed by state rule in California, but earlier this year the California Horse Racing Board waived the rule for this year's World Thoroughbred Championships at the request of Breeders' Cup. Mike Marten, a spokesman for the CHRB, said he was unaware of any interest by the Breeders' Cup in reinstating the rule.
"Any effort to repeal the waiver would have to be done by the board at an official board meeting," Marten said.
The CHRB's next two monthly meetings are Sept. 18 and Oct. 23, just two days before the Breeders' Cup.
Jockey advertising became a hot-button issue for the industry during this year's Visa Triple Crown when several jockeys wore advertisements for Wrangler and Budweiser in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Although the advertisements were within the rules of New York Racing, the ploy was described as "ambush marketing" by angry Visa officials.
The Belmont advertisements were acquired through the Southern California-based firm Jockeys Management Group. JMG has exclusive contracts with dozens of the nation's top riders, but a majority of the deals are set to expire in the next two months. Chamblin said it is of no consequence whether jockeys are represented by a third-party because Breeders' Cup "would follow all the appropriate protocol."
The additional jockey advertisements for the Breeders' Cup would come at no extra cost to sponsors, Chamblin said. He also indicated this plan may provide a viable way for tracks with races that have title sponsors to handle jockey advertising in the future.
"It could lead to a model that is used by others," Chamblin said. "That's why we refer to this as a pilot program. Certainly if it works on Breeders' Cup day it could be expand ed to individual racetracks and other races that our sponsors and marketing partners are involved in."