Owners Want Input in Sponsorship Deals

Racehorse owners want input in how sponsorships are handled.

Some owners who had horses in the grade I Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands are questioning the manner in which a corporate sponsorship tied to charitable causes was handled, but the Jockeys’ Guild said the parties followed proper procedure.

In a May 2 release, NetJets, formerly a Breeders’ Cup sponsor, announced that jockeys in the Derby would wear the company’s logo in exchange for the jet leasing company making a donation to the riders. NetJets paid $15,000 per jockey for a total of $285,000.

The release said the jockeys would “donate money to both the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation,” and that Bill Casner of WinStar Farm, which had three horses in the Derby, would make a donation to the PDJF.

The release didn’t specify how much money would go where. Sources said the TRF received $5,000 from each jockey, and that the jockeys each got $10,000. They said some owners weren’t aware of the financial details.

Guild national manager Terry Meyocks said May 6 the TRF actually will receive a lump sum of $75,000, and the PDJF $75,000. That leaves $135,000 for the jockeys—about $7,100 each. The Guild received no sponsorship money, Meyocks said.

The sponsorship deal was worked out between NetJets and the jockeys. NetJets was involved in a similar sponsorship during last year’s Triple Crown.

“All of the owners signed the approval form,” Meyocks said. “We were up front with everything. We’re not trying to mislead anybody. The agreement was between the jockeys and NetJets.”

Meyocks said after approval from all 20 owners—I Want Revenge was scratched the morning of the race, leaving a 19-horse field—was received, host track Churchill Downs and the stewards signed off on the deal.

“We did everything they asked for,” he said of the regulatory process. “They were aware of every issue before they signed off on it.”

Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association president Dan Metzger said it’s important for owners of racehorses to be involved in any sponsorship discussions.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for racing to embrace sponsors such as NetJets,” Metzger said. “(Company chief executive officer) Richard Santulli’s support of racing as an owner and sponsor has a tremendous impact on our sport, but we encourage full transparency in sponsorship dealings, and any sponsorship involving jockeys must involve owners as well.

“You can’t exclude owners—they own the horses, and should be at the center of discussions. The individual owner should be empowered to make the decision on how sponsorship revenue is divided.”

In the May 2 release, Santulli said the company “is truly honored to join with the Derby jockeys and Bill Casner to make this donation to both the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. Through our sponsorship of the Kentucky Derby, we hope to build awareness of the many worthy charities within the Thoroughbred industry, and help raise additional money to benefit these great causes.”

Like last year, the sponsorship will continue during the May 16 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico Race Course and the June 6 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park.

Casner, like Santulli a supporter of industry causes, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. But Meyocks said he had discussions with Casner and others, and the Guild agreed to “sit down with a number of owners this summer” to discuss future sponsorships and other matters.

“I hope the Jockeys’ Guild reaches out to the appropriate organizations that represent owners and tries to get a big-picture solution that’s equitable to owners, sponsors, and jockeys,” Metzger said.

The debate over media rights and compensation often comes down to whether the tracks, horse owners, trainers, jockeys, or all parties own the images from races.