A top Thoroughbred owner said NetJets’ sponsorship of jockeys in the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) is something that can be built upon, and that owners will work with jockeys on future endeavors.
Bill Casner, co-owner of WinStar Farm, which had three horses in this year’s Derby at Churchill Downs, said May 7 he plans to work to “try to structure something palatable for everyone.” There were rumblings the week of May 3 that not everyone was happy with the Derby sponsorship hammered out by the company and the jockeys.
Casner, who was involved in the Derby sponsorship tied to charitable causes, said there may have been misperceptions because “everything came down at the 11th hour, and everybody was scrambling around to get approval.” The official Derby field wasn’t known until April 29, which left the Jockeys’ Guild and others with three days to get approval from 20 owners for jockeys to wear the NetJets logo in the race.
NetJets, whose chairman is Thoroughbred owner Richard Santulli, contributed $15,000 for each jockey; 19 horses raced, so the total was $285,000. Of that, $75,000 went to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and $75,000 to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
“What the process revealed is that there has to be more planning,” Casner said. “We’re going to work on that. But the (NetJets Derby sponsorship) was a win-win. (The Jockeys’ Guild) did a yeoman’s job contacting owners and working with the jockeys.”
Guild national manager Terry Meyocks said NetJets sponsorships, which began last year, along with other contributions have produced $956,000 for various charities. Meyocks said the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Churchill Downs “got the ball rolling” in 2008.
“We had a great conversation (with Casner and others),” Meyocks said. “We don’t want to close people out of this. The riders, and Richard Santulli and Bill Casner, should be commended for what they do, not questioned.”
Casner said he personally isn’t looking to make money from sponsorships. “We want to make money off of our core business,” he said. “As a group, owners want to be generous. Good things always happen when everyone gets into a room. Everyone can have input and be part of the process. I think all owners agree it’s a good thing.”
Further talks will be held this summer, Casner and Meyocks said. Jockeys Kent Desormeaux, Garrett Gomez, Julien Leparoux, Edgar Prado, and John Velazquez are among those who have taken leadership roles, they said.
Casner said jockeys have a right to make money through sponsorships, and that “allocating the lion’s share of the money to charities” is a positive for the industry. He is particularly interested in supporting the PDJF, which provides funds for disabled riders.
“There has to be awareness created for riders,” he said. “We would like to work with the riders to increase the visibility of the (PDJF). We should probably include exercise riders and backstretch help. If a groom gets hurt, we need to provide some assistance. Sometimes they become invisible on the backside.”
Casner said he would focus on the Derby for corporate sponsorships involving jockeys and owners.
“It has to happen,” he said. “Both are involved, and both of them have to sign off. I’m speaking strictly of Kentucky and the Derby; other states have different rules (on sponsorships in races). The Derby is a special event, and we can create focus and awareness.”