New York Jockeys Call for Solutions

John Velazquez and Kent Desormeaux are among those asking for industry changes.

A group of New York jockeys is asking all parties in the ongoing negotiations for the New York racing franchise to come up with creative solutions to the problems facing the industry.

“This is the perfect time to initiate change,” jockey John Velazquez, chairman of the board of directors of the Jockeys’ Guild, said in a Jan. 8 release. “What was created in the 50s no longer works in the 21st century. We need to come up with a plan that better incorporates the (off-track betting) systems and maximizes (video lottery terminal) revenues to make New York racing the world leader and provides a long-term solution for the industry.

"New York is all about being the best. It’s practically the state motto. Racing fans in New York deserve no less. We have that opportunity right now. Purses and awards need to be increased. Horsemen and breeders require a fair share of the VLT revenues. Facilities must to be improved, and safety issues need to be addressed."

In Pennsylvania, where purses and breeding funds earn 12% of gross revenue from slot machines, purses have increased dramatically and the breeding industry has benefited, growing from about 950 foals to 1,250 the year after gaming legislation became law, according to statistics cited by The Blood-Horse.

“Other jurisdictions are enjoying the benefits of gaming revenue streams,” Velazquez said.  “And, as Pennsylvania has shown, those benefits extend far beyond the area of the racetrack itself.”

The jockeys believe other issues need to be addressed, including safety for both the equine and human participants in the sport; representation on the New York Racing Association board of directors for jockeys, horsemen, and breeders; health and welfare issues including the establishment of a retirement fund for jockeys; and higher mount fees.

“Safety should be beyond discussion,” Velazquez said. “But the horsemen, breeders, and jockeys need to have input into the decision-making process at the track and become partners with the franchise-holder in presenting the best possible product to the fans.

"Additionally, we would like to see a creative approach, modeled on California’s recent initiative, on issues concerning us like health and welfare, pension, and mount fees. In California, a jockeys’ pension fund is being started with a contribution from advance deposit wagering, and legislation also has provided a series of raises in mount fees, which haven’t been increased in New York in many years.

“Senate Majority Leader (Joseph) Bruno, who has been actively involved in the industry, and Assembly Speaker (Sheldon) Silver have been long-time backers of the industry in New York, and Gov. (Eliot) Spitzer has shown a keen interest in the industry along with knowledge of its importance to New York State. We are hopeful that these leaders will shape final legislation on the franchise extension that will give racing a new opportunity to thrive and provide benefits to the state of New York, its citizens, and the industry for decades to come.”

In addition to Velazquez, the jockeys' group includes Norberto Arroyo, Joe Bravo, Javier Castellano, Eibar Coa, Kent Desormeaux, Ramon Dominguez, Alan Garcia, Channing Hill, Mike Luzzi, Rajiv Maragh, Edgar Prado, Jean-Luc Samyn, and Cornelio Velasquez.