With no permanent funding source for the industry's Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, the Jockeys' Guild is working to rally more support for its "Dollar Start" effort it hopes soon will pick up more support from horsemen and owners.
The Guild began its annual assembly Monday, Jan. 19, at the Diplomat Spa and Resort in Hollywood, Fla. The Guild is celebrating its 75th year, and in launching this year's two-day assembly, national manager Terry Meyocks noted that many of the issues haven't changed over the years. One of the most important is assisting riders who have suffered permanent disability while riding.
PDJF executive director Nancy LaSala outlined the effort to have riders contribute one dollar for every start to support the fund, which assists riders who have suffered permanent disability. As an industry initiative, the fund supports any rider that is injured, whether they're in the Guild or not. Currently PDJF is assisting 61 injured riders.
In its first full year in 2014, the dollar-a-mount program raised $57,000 but LaSala noted that with more than 350,000 starts by riders last year more support is needed from jockeys and tracks. The track support is needed because participating tracks can use a Jockey Club-funded InCompass program that allows the tax-free donations to automatically be deducted from riders mount fees and committed to PDJF. Currently just 26 of the estimated 80 active tracks offer the program.
"We have a lot of work in front of us, but I really think it's achievable to cover every start," LaSala said. "It's disappointing to me that we don't have full support of this from every racetrack in the country."
LaSala encouraged riders to talk to non-participating tracks and bookkeepers about adding the program. She said support also has to be generated within each jockey colony. LaSala envisions trainers and owners coming on board to support the program, which with full support, could easily generate $1 million annually through those deductible, one-dollar donations.
In July, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association became the first horsemen's group in the country to commit to the program when its board approved the $1-a-start effort for PDJF.
"We want to do our part to ensure that the permanently disabled jockeys have the assistance they need," NYTHA president Rick Violette Jr. said at the time. "The coverage provided by workers' compensation and the revenue raised by benefit events only go so far. Donations made through per-start programs will create a steady stream of funding earmarked for the people who really need it."
LaSala said the program needs full support from riders and campaigning from riders with horsemen's groups.
"We do need the jockey support. Many of you have good relationships with the horsemen's groups. It's a very simple way to raise money if they could get their owners to agree with this," LaSala said.
LaSala said some permanent funding sources for the PDJF promised when it was launched in 2006, have not become reality. She said it's been a constant battle to keep the fund afloat and noted that without $1.45 million in donations over the years from the Farish Fund she's not sure if it would have continued. The fund has paid out more than $6 million since its start.
The fund currently is at $786,121, all from individual donations. If donations ended tomorrow, LaSala said the fund would only be able to continue for 15 more months. Of the 61 riders receiving assistance, 55% suffered paralysis, 30% head injuries, and 15% spinal cord injuries. Just some of the needs the fund helps pay for include medical co-pays, breathing tubes, and wheelchairs.
"There's been no increase in stipend since 2006. We can't responsibly increase that because without permanent funding, we can't guarantee that we could go on," LaSala said. "It's troubling because I know all of the riders we're taking care of; I know their families. There's tremendous need."
Jockey Ramon Dominguez, whose career ended after suffering brain injury in a 2013 spill, also encouraged more support for the PDJF endowment, which aims to collect enough money to generate ongoing funding. LaSala estimated it would take about $15 million if the endowment were used to supplement the current PDJF or $30 million to replace the PDJF. Currently the endowment has $2,911,133.