The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has formed a working group to study the issue of medical insurance for jockeys.
On Oct. 31, a day after the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Lone Star Park, NTRA commissioner D.G. Van Clief Jr. said the organization would consider formation of a task force in light of ongoing conflict over insurance for jockeys. On Nov. 8, the NTRA made it official.
"Our members--including racetracks, breeders, owners, and other horsemen--have asked us to take on this project," Van Clief said in a release. "Our goal will be to expeditiously analyze the current situation regarding jockey medical coverage on a state-by-state basis and issue recommendations that strive for a common-sense industry solution to an industry-wide problem."
Terry Meyocks, special assistant to the commissioner and a former president of the New York Racing Association, will head the working group, Van Clief said.
The NTRA and Breeders' Cup hiked the minimum on medical expenses to $500,000 from $100,000 for the Oct. 28-30 racing programs at Lone Star. The Jockeys' Guild characterized the move as an admission current levels in most racing states are inadequate.
In a statement, Albert Fiss, vice president of the Guild, said the increase in on-track insurance for the three days of racing tied to Breeders' Cup was "an acknowledgement that jockeys are not properly protected in most states and an economic indicator that the industry as a whole can provide significantly higher levels of protection than currently exist."
A group of Churchill Downs jockeys refused to commit to ride beginning Nov. 10 and subsequently were ejected by track management. The jockeys cited the insurance issue as the cause.
Most tracks offer insurance up to $100,000. The minimum is much higher for a handful of states, including California and New York, which offer workers' compensation insurance.
Dr. Wayne Gertmenian, president and chief executive officer of the 1,250-member Guild, was on hand at Lone Star Oct. 30. In a brief interview, he said the goal is to protect all jockeys.
"I've been spending the last three years trying to work with the industry, but so far the treatment of me has been incredibly rude," Gertmenian said. "I can't believe they don't see the need to protect their own stars. It will eventually come to something, I'm sure. It's a sad story."
The debate over jockeys' insurance has lingered for years given the fact they are considered independent contractors, albeit in a very dangerous field. The issue heated up this summer when jockey Gary Birzer was paralyzed after a racing accident in West Virginia and discovered he was covered for only for $100,000 in medical expenses.