Calif. Bill to Increase Riding Fees Gets Initial OK

A bill that would increase riding fees for California jockeys and tie future hikes to the state's minimum wage law cleared the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee April 25.

The measure, AB 649, sponsored by the Jockeys' Guild and introduced by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where it is expected to get its first reading next month.

The Assembly G.O. committee heard testimony from Southern California jockeys Danny Sorenson and Joy Scott in support of the legislation. They told the committee that the mount fee in California has been increased just once -- by 5% -- in the past 19 years.

“Inflation has gone up 75 percent, while jockeys have received a 5 percent raise,” said Ma in a press release. “In what other occupation does someone receive a 5 percent wage increase over a 20-year period? This bill will bring justice for jockeys.”

Under terms of the bill, the mount fee, which ranges between $33 and $105 depending on the size of the purse for a race, would go up by 9% on Jan. 1, 2008. Increases after that would be tied to percentage gains in the state's minimum wage. For instance, the Legislature last year increased the minimum wage from $6.75 to $8 over a two-year period, amounting to an 18% increase.

The California Horse Racing Board is responsible for setting riding fees in the state.

According to the Jockeys' Guild, about 75% of jockeys earn less than $40,000 per year. In addition to the riding fee, jockeys earn additional money depending on whether the horse places in the money. 

Nick Hardeman, a staff assistant to Ma, said the Thoroughbred Owners of California has dropped its opposition to the measure.

Attorney Barry Broad, California lobbyist for the Jockeys' Guild, could not be reached for comment.

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