Despite efforts by regulators to defuse the issue, the annual controversy over advertising on jockeys’ pants at the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) resurfaced May 11 during two meetings of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
First, the KHRC rules committee heard lengthy explanations from all parties involved in negotiating and completing the contracts on how the $300,000 advertising disbursement from Chrysler on behalf of its Dodge Ram truck line would be divided.
Then, later in the day, the subject of the advertising contracts and allocations was brought up during the regular KHRC meeting, with commissioner Tom Ludt having pointed words for representatives of the Jockeys’ Guild.
The jockeys’ advertising deal with Chrysler became available through Churchill Downs, which did not make any money on the contract but had other promotional agreements with the vehicle manufacturer. While the KHRC has a standardized form spelling out requirements of the state's rules and regulations, Derby jockey advertising, the Guild and representatives of horsemen’s organizations also had contracts they wanted owners to sign.
The Guild contract, signed by an estimated 11-13 of the participating owners and jockeys, called for a split of 40% to the owner, 40% to the jockey, and 20% to charity. According to representatives of the Guild and the horsemen’s groups present at the rules committee meeting, many of the jockeys and owners designated their portions of the funds to charities. The Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund was a major recipient of much of the advertising money.
Ludt, president of Vinery, which co-owns Derby starter Awesome Act, and KHRC member Tom Conway, who co-owns Derby starter Stately Victor, were directly involved in the convoluted and oftentimes confusing process of getting the contracts signed. The window for getting the contracts completed is narrow because the jockeys and owners participating sometimes aren't known until the Wednesday prior to the Saturday Derby.
Conway signed a version of the Guild contract that allocated 100% of his horse’s advertising money to the PDJF. Ludt declined to sign the Guild contract, despite repeated attempts by Guild national manager Terry Meyocks to get him to do so.
The commission-approved contract signed by Ludt allocated the money from what would have been advertising worn by jockey Julien Leparoux to be split between the PDJF and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. However, since he did not sign the Guild agreement, Leparoux was the only Derby jockey without the Dodge ram logo on his pants; apparently there will be no money sent to charity on his behalf.
During the lengthy meeting of the rules committee, of which Conway is a member, Guild representatives defended the use of their contract for deciding how the money is divided. They contend the commission doesn't have the authority to dictate how revenues from the jockey advertising should be distributed and challenged Conway’s description of the money as a "windfall."
"This is a windfall and all of it should go to charity," Conway said.
"I challenge the notion that the commission has the right to dictate where that money goes," Guild attorney Tom Kennedy said. "We don’t regard it as a windfall. We think that it is a legitimate opportunity."
Rules committee chair Ned Bonnie said the current system is confusing. He gave all parties involved – Jockeys’ Guild, Churchill Downs, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association – seven days in which to submit their recommendations to the rules committee on a proposed jockey advertising contract that would be approved by the commission and binding on all Derby owners.
One area in which there was unanimity among the parties was that any contracts must be completed and signed by all parties within 24 hours after post positions are drawn.
During the regular KHRC meeting, Ludt proposed that the Guild be fined for its actions prior to the Derby.
While the commission took no action on Ludt’s recommendation of a fine, there was a lively discussion of what transpired during Derby week. Ludt said he signed his contract the Tuesday before the Derby but that he was approached by Meyocks as late as Derby eve soliciting his signature on the Guild-sanctioned agreement.
"I was in the paddock on Friday with guests and I was approached by Terry Meyocks with this new agreement," Ludt said. "It was not the proper form."
Noting that Meyocks said the KHRC contract he signed was not the correct document, Ludt said he declined to sign the Guild contract. At one point, Ludt said Meyocks was a "liar" for saying that the contract signed by Ludt was not the correct one.
"I stand behind the principles of the (KHRC) rule," Ludt said.
Meyocks and Kennedy were not at the KHRC meeting. Guild Midwest regional manager Jeff Johnston, who attended both the rules committee and commission meetings, said he was not directly involved in this year’s contract negotiations.
Early in the evening, however, the Guild issued a release on the matter, saying it "strongly objects" to Ludt's comments.
The Guild said Awesome Act was the only horse in the race that didn't participate in the sponsorship opportunity. His trainer, Jeremy Noseda, told Meyocks and Guild chair John Velazquez on Derby day that his owner gave instructions that sponsorship pants could only be worn if all the sponsorship money from all the horses in the race was contributed to charity. The Guild said because 19 other owners had reached agreements with their riders, the demand could not be met.
The Guild said Leparoux had signed an agreement that provided the sponsorship money would be divided between the TRF and the PDJF.
“We are disappointed by the attitude exhibited by Mr. Ludt at (the KHRC) meeting,” Kennedy said in a follow-up statement. “Because of his stubbornness, it was only his horse that that didn’t participate in the Derby sponsorship opportunity. The Guild and (KHRC rules committee) had a constructive dialog this morning including Churchill Downs and horsemen’s organizations prior to Mr. Ludt’s comments. It is unfortunate that Mr. Ludt, instead of engaging in this kind of dialog, is calling for investigations and fines that are completely baseless.
“It is unfair that individuals like Mr. Ludt can capitalize on their official position to push private interests they have as president of Vinery, a major breeding and racing operation; a board member of TOBA; as well as a racing commissioner who is supposedly looking out for the best interests of racing.”