The Jockeys' Guild began its annual meeting Dec. 6 with a call for solidarity -- even in the face of the dismissal of member Eddie King, who had sued the organization -- and a call for members not to talk to the press.
With more than 100 members in attendance at the meeting in Irving, Texas, the Guild continued to work on its plan to win concessions and compensation for jockeys from the racing industry in the wake of inadequate medical on-track medical insurance. Among the strategies is a contract between the Guild and individual racetracks.
King, the former Guild treasurer who sued the organization this year because he couldn't obtain financial information, attended the meeting as a member but left the morning of Dec. 6 after he was notified the Guild's executive committee, by unanimous vote, ousted him. He said he wasn't present when the board voted.
"They threw me out of the Guild," King said. "Nothing was clarified, so I couldn't tell you. I have no idea why. I was here to listen, not to cause any problems. If I was asked questions, I would have stood up and answered them. All I had asked for is information that is required by law. They're just misguided."
King said he would discuss the latest developments with his lawyer. He said jockey Kent Desormeaux, a member of the executive committee who has said he performed his own due diligence into Guild business, notified him of the decision.
King was the only active rider who spoke to the media the morning and early afternoon of Dec. 6. Jockeys in attendance were told by Guild management not to discuss proceedings with members of the press.
"I have no comment," Paul Atkinson, a California-based jockey, said when asked if he could comment on the meetings. "My loyalty is with my fellow riders."
Other jockeys also said they wouldn't comment on the meetings.
Darrell Haire, a national member representative for the Guild, told The Blood-Horse
earlier in the morning that the sessions would be closed, which is customary. A while later, the manager of the Embassy Suites hotel approached Liz Mullen, a reporter with Sports Business Journal
, and told her she would be removed from the premises if she was disruptive.
Soon after, Guild member Walter Cullum told Mullen her stories were false. Mullen broke the story on the lawsuit by King and has written other Guild-related articles.
"You're not helping us, you're hurting us," said Cullum, who later approached members of the press as they spoke to King, who was preparing to leave the hotel. "You're a (bleeping) liar," he told King.
The "press as enemy" position apparently has become part of the Guild strategy. Before the meetings began, a few jockeys expressed an interest in talking about Guild issues, but soon after they were told not to discuss business with the media. On a few occasions, individuals having discussions with three members of the media were called back into meetings.
During the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Jockeys' Medical Insurance Panel meeting Nov. 22, two officials who attended said Dr. Wayne Gertmenian, chief executive officer of the Guild, said comments made by Guild officials on insurance matters had been misinterpreted by the press. Gertmenian later told The Blood-Horse
officials had been "misquoted."
Larry Saumell, like Haire a national member representative, said he spoke to Guild management and was told management would, at the end of the meetings, bring the press up to speed on proceedings. Gertmenian, meanwhile, indicated he might be available after the sessions on the first day of the two-day meeting had ended.
There also appears to be an adversarial relationship brewing between the Guild, which has encouraged jockeys to sign over their media rights, and a few companies -- JMG and Equisponse -- that have struck individual deals with riders. Kelly Wietsma, president of Equisponse, has sent a letter to Germtenian outlining her concerns with the Guild and suggested he resign.
Among the items on the Guild agenda were to create a "war council" and discuss "war plans." Details weren't available, but the plan includes negotiations with the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and contracts between the Guild and individual racetracks.
On Dec. 1, Churchill Downs president Steve Sexton sent a letter to Gertmenian asking him to account for the $1.25 million Churchill Downs Inc.-owned tracks have given the organization the past three years. Sexton said he wanted an answer by Dec. 7, two days before the TRA meets in Tucson, Ariz.
The TRA no longer has a written contract with the Guild, but it does give the Guild $2.2 million a year in "good faith" money, presumably to help defer the costs of insurance. The Guild, however, can spend the money as it sees fit. Though Churchill appears poised to press the issue, it remains to be seen whether other racetracks will question the Guild or move to cut off the funds.
In October, the Guild issued a list of racetrack recommendations to regulators in various jurisdictions. It includes proposals for health and safety, animal rights, civil rights, benefits, authority, and compensation. Under the plan, the Guild would negotiate with individual racetracks.
As for its finances, the Guild had a little more than $5 million in total net assets at the end of 2003, according to a Dec. 1 audit by Piazza, Donnelly & Marlette, a certified public accounting firm based in California. Total revenue for 2003 was $7,074,167, with $7,008,328 in expenses.
Matrix Capital Associates, Gertmenian's consulting company, was paid $412,000 in management fees last year, according to the audit. Gertmenian received $160,000 in salary, and $12,000 in life insurance. The largest expenses, however, were health, dental, and vision insurance, which cost $2.1 million last year, and "third-party administration," which cost $1.2 million, the audit said.