Jeff Johnston

Jeff Johnston

Tim Sharp

Guild Official Barred From River Downs

A Jockeys' Guild official was verbally barred from River Downs after the Ohio State Racing Commission was notified of an incident in which the track’s substitute ambulance caught fire on the racetrack and a pickup truck was used for emergency services for the final two races of a program.

Jeff Johnston, a regional manager for the Guild, notified the racing commission because of safety concerns. Johnston, who has had no access to the jockeys’ quarters at River Downs this year, subsequently was told he wouldn’t be permitted anywhere on the grounds.

Johnston was granted permission by the track to attend the Ohio State Racing Commission meeting at River Downs Aug. 21. The issue wasn’t addressed at the regular meeting, but was expected to come up during an OSRC safety committee meeting soon after.

River Downs general manager Jack Hanessian said he asked Johnston, a former leading rider at River Downs, to stay off the premises, but had not yet served him a written notice as requested by Johnston. Hanessian said he planned to talk with Guild national manager Terry Meyocks, who attended the Aug. 21 meetings.

“He’s doing everything he can to embarrass us,” Hanessian said of Johnston. “He told the racing commission about (the ambulance incident). There was nothing wrong with what we did. We had paramedics sitting in a vehicle. Plus, the Anderson Township paramedics were here investigating the fire.”

The track’s primary ambulance was out of service at the time with a broken belt, so the older ambulance was being used. The charred vehicle, which was fully engulfed in flames, remains on the grounds.

Hanessian said he visited the jockeys’ quarters after the fire and asked jockeys if they wanted to ride the final two races on the program, and they agreed.

“I’m not trying to compromise safety,” Hanessian said.

Meyocks, speaking for Johnston, expressed concern over the incident. He said standards must be followed not only at River Downs, but all racetracks.

“There’s no room for compromise on any safety issues,” Meyocks said. “There are unlimited possibilities a disaster could happen. We’re here to work together to promote the game.”