Jockeys at Philadelphia Park have asked state officials in Pennsylvania to assist them in their push to get a new catastrophic on-track accident insurance policy.
Led by Anthony Black, who has won more than 5,000 races in his career and is the all-time leading rider at Philly Park, the jockeys formed Philadelphia Park Jockeys, a non-profit organization that represents local riders. Local riders, not the national Jockeys' Guild, now negotiate with management.
Black and about a dozen riders pleaded their case July 19 to the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission. Currently, Philly Park jockeys are entitled to a maximum of $100,000 in on-track accident insurance, significantly lower than many racetracks around the country, including Penn National Race Course, another Pennsylvania track that covers riders up to $1 million if they are injured.
"The Jockey's Guild is in a situation where its credibility is in question because of its past performance," said Black, who began riding in 1970. "I support jockeys, but I've withdrawn from the Guild because financially, it can't represent riders. We formed this organization about five months ago because we feel like we cannot wait anymore. The jockeys are putting themselves at risk without adequate coverage.
"Recently Mountaineer, Charles Town, Churchill, and several other tracks all increased coverage for their jockeys to $1 million. Six other states have workers' compensation for riders. I would say about 95% of the tracks have at least $500,000 in coverage, and Philadelphia Park is sitting here with $100,000. It's inadequate."
Black, president of Philadelphia Park jockeys, said the organization made a proposal to Philly Park management that mirrors what Magna Entertainment Corp. currently has in place for jockeys at its tracks. The plan would require the racetrack to pay 70% of the insurance premium, horsemen 20%, and jockeys 10%.
Black said management has turned down the jockeys on three separate occasions. Philly Park director of racing Sal Sinatra couldn't be reached for comment on the situation.
The jockey insurance issue has been the subject of Congressional hearings within the past year.
"What we proposed was a temporary solution," Black said. "Philadelphia Park handled a half a billion dollars last year, and we're asking them for about one-tenth of 1% of that to help us. They said no. So I got in touch with the governor's office and (local) senator's office, and finally the racing commission said it would intervene. (Commissioners) promised us they would research the situation.
"All we want is for them to keep up with the standards of the industry. It's almost an insult to us."
In other news from the commission meeting, it was announced that longtime chairman F. Eugene Dixon Jr., has stepped down. Dixon had been chairman for 16 years and was instrumental in spearheading the Pennsylvania off-track betting legislation and also worked closely with Gov. Ed Rendell on the 2004 law that legalized slot machines in the state.
Philly Park is remodeling its first and second floors in anticipation of having slot machines installed, perhaps this fall.