A controversial model rule that increases losing mount fees for jockeys generated lively debate Dec. 8 when both sides presented their case. One group, the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, has called for repeal of the rule.
There has been a movement toward increasing the fees, with about 20 jurisdictions having raised the minimum. But racetracks in major jurisdictions, including Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, have not taken action.
According to statistics provided during the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing & Gaming in Tucson, Ariz., mount fees were $25 in 1964 and $45 in 2001. The model rule, based on purse levels, sets the range at $40-$115 at tracks where there is no agreement between horsemen and jockeys.
The model rule isn’t a mandate; state racing commissions don’t have to adopt it. Still, the National HBPA believes the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which oversees model rules, shouldn’t be involved in economics.
“Economics should be removed from the model rules process,” National HBPA president Joe Santanna said. “Economics should be determined between the affected parties. We feel RCI should not be acting as a union negotiator.”
The National HBPA proposal, approved by its board of directors Dec. 7, calls for a reallocation of the about $99 million jockeys earn each year. The proposal calls for winning jockeys to get 9% of a purse instead of 10%, which would free up $7.2 million for losing mount fees, roughly $30 per rider.
Santanna said $86 million of the $99 million goes to the riders of the top three finishers in each race, leaving $13 million for the rest—62% of all jockeys. He called it a “top-heavy plan.”
The National HBPA cites statistics that show horse owners lose $1.75 billion a year. Thus, the group believes, owners shouldn’t have to take another hit.
The Jockeys’ Guild has different ideas. Guild regional manager Jeff Johnston said reallocation of funds isn’t acceptable.
“We’re not fans of the Robin Hood plan,” Johnston said, suggesting a reallocation of funds for trainers, purses, and racetracks. “Why not have Churchill Downs share part of its money with Beulah Park and River Downs? An increase in jockey fees isn’t going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said the THA isn’t involved in the debate because its affiliates all have cut deals on mount fees. But Foreman said he doesn’t believe RCI should be involved in the issue.
Foreman said the “core problem” is 30%-40% of jockeys make the bulk of the money, while the rest “get the scraps.”
“I’m trying to help that group,” he said. “(The model rule) isn't going to make a darn bit of difference.”
The Maryland plan is targeted to riders not at the top, Foreman said. Jockeys that make less than $100,000 a year with 50 or more mounts get a mount-fee bonus at the end of each year.
Foreman said the model rule limits the ability to “think outside the box.” He said economic conditions in the industry are forcing it to rethink how it does business, and maintaining an old structure for jockey mount fees is counterproductive.
Chicago-based rider Jerry La Sala, who said he respects all points of view on the issue, noted mount fees weren’t increased for 37 years.
“How do you expect someone to even make it?” La Sala said. “It’s the guys running fourth through last that put on the show. Racetracks want these full fields.”
Santanna said some progress had been made before the RCI stepped in and requested agreement before its Dec. 5 meeting. Guild national manager Terry Meyocks acknowledged the working relationship but said the Guild was stymied by more prominent jurisdictions.
“It has been a tough couple of years,” Meyocks said. “We’ve had major problems with Kentucky and Oaklawn Park. It’s the tracks with purses of $400,000 (a day) and up that we’re struggling with, but smaller tracks like Fairmount Park and Finger Lakes have stepped up. We need to find some common ground.”
The Arkansas HBPA opposed the increase in mount fees, but the Arkansas Racing Commission approved an increase that will take effect during the 2010 Oaklawn meet.