Recent reports that jockeys in many states don't have sufficient benefits to cover costs of catastrophic injuries sustained in riding accidents prompted some pointed remarks to a Jockey's Guild representative during the California Horse Racing Board Dec. 2 meeting at Hollywood Park.
"This has been a huge black eye for racing and the Jockeys' Guild is at the center of it," said commissioner Richard Shapiro, questioning Guild vice president Albert Fiss about recent national events and published articles critical of Guild management. "Obviously, we want to make sure that jockeys (in California) are receiving all the benefits to which they are entitled."
Drew Couto, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said he has similar concerns and asked the Guild to provide documentation detailing how the public funds are managed.
Jockeys in California are covered under the workers' compensation insurance policies required for all trainers in the state, which pays all medical bills resulting from a riding accident. The Thoroughbred Racing Associations provides up to $1 million in additional coverage to compensate jockeys at Thoroughbred racetracks that suffer catastrophic injuries. The amount is greatly reduced if a jockey does not waive the right to take legal action against a racetrack except in instances of gross negligence.
State law also authorizes the CHRB to allocate a portion of uncashed pari-mutuel tickets revenue – about $1 million a year – to the Guild for health coverage for California jockeys and their families. As part of its review of the expenditure of these public funds, the CHRB requested that Guild president L. Wayne Gertmenian and Fiss attend the meeting to address criticism of Guild management. Gertmenian did not attend.
Fiss said, "California is the model system. California offers the three levels of coverage that need to be done in every other state – on-track accident coverage at workers' compensation levels, family health coverage, and catastrophic injury insurance."
Shapiro questioned whether all jockeys in California and the elsewhere fully understand the limitations of their coverage and the effect a loss of income would have on their life.
"The CHRB and the industry have an obligation to make certain the Jockeys' Guild disseminates information to allow the jockeys to make appropriate and informed decisions on their own behalf," said Shapiro.