Horsemen: Legislation Hurt Relations With Jockeys

Representatives of horsemen's groups criticized for not supporting the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund questioned jockeys' support for the fund and said pursuit of legislation that would amend the Interstate Horseracing Act has damaged relations between horsemen and jockeys.

Jockeys' Guild officials during the Dec. 4 annual assembly in Las Vegas suggested the inability of the industry to thus far sufficiently support the disabled riders' fund could turn into a public relations nightmare for horse racing. The fund, inaugurated earlier this year with initial support from Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp., among others, is almost at $500,000. The goal was to have $1.2 million in the fund by June 15 of this year.

Officials said 67% of the money has come from tracks, 24% from fundraisers, 8% from fans and other patrons of the sport, and 1% from horsemen. Guild attorney Tom Kennedy, during the annual meeting, called lack of support from horsemen's groups "despicable."

Three horsemen's groups--the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, and Thoroughbred Owners of California--have seats on the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund's 10-member board of directors.

"Look, the only reason this is an issue is because of the malfeasance (under previous Guild management) and the mishandling of the Guild's money by the jockeys themselves," said Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the THA. "Where is the responsibility for that? And what is the jockeys' contribution to the fund?

"Instead, they're embarking on PR campaign to get everybody else to pay, and they're not contributing a nickel themselves."

(Jockeys have participated in and contributed through some of the fund-raisers, they said.)

National HBPA and Pennsylvania HBPA president Joe Santanna said horsemen were kicking around the idea of a one-day national fund-raiser in the hope of raising $50,000-$60,000 for the fund. He said affiliates wanted assurances the fund was separate from the Guild, which was in the process of rebuilding after firing a management team at odds with the industry.

"Then the federal legislation came and made it difficult for our affiliates to separate the issue anymore," Santanna said in reference to a bill that would take half the simulcast revenue horsemen's groups receive for operations and benevolence and use it to fund a national insurance plan for jockeys and backstretch workers. "If our affiliates have to give up 50% of what they operate on and use for benevolence for members, it would render our affiliates inoperable."

Santanna said the National HBPA believes the figure would be about $15 million a year.

"As long as this federal legislation is pending, we have a responsibility to defend ourselves," Santanna said. "It has gotten blurry again. The National HBPA has a seat on the (disabled riders' fund board), and that in itself is a demonstration we were trying to assist them. We'd like to be part of the solution to the problem."

Foreman said horsemen's groups told the Guild reception to the new fund "might be very chilly" and that jockeys should pursue workers' compensation legislation in each racing state. Foreman said Maryland horsemen, who through an annual licensing fee fund a workers' comp program for riders, must now pay $350 a year, up from $200 last year and $50 when the program began.

Several large insurance claims and a reduction in the number of licensed horse owners fueled the increase, Foreman said. Horsemen, he said, are now balking about the cost of racing horses in Maryland.

"The fact is horsemen don't have the money to contribute to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund," Foreman said. "If would be different if they had a pot of gold and could just write checks. I couldn't sell this to members. It's a non-starter. This is a real hot-button issue with horsemen."

When the fund, which supports about 60 individuals, was formed, there was division over whether contributions should be mandatory or voluntary. There even was a spreadsheet that outlined how much each party would pay, officials said.

"They didn't want to do anything because they didn't trust the Guild," Guild chairman John Velazquez said at the Guild assembly. "They have the power to see where the money is going and they're still not contributing whatsoever. We tried to do it by contract, but they didn't want (the contributions) to be mandatory. At the time, we had to do something. We knew this was going to happen."

Guild officials also indicated the lack of industry support for the fund could fuel the legislative fires in Washington, D.C., where several lawmakers have taken an active interest in the health and welfare of jockeys and backstretch workers.

"If there is a halt in payments to disabled (jockeys)--as painful as it will be--it could have an effect to focus the industry on the problem," Kennedy said.

Guild national manager Dwight Manley met with the board of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations Dec. 6 in Tucson, Ariz. TRA executive vice president Chris Scherf said the disabled riders' fund was addressed at the meeting, and that it would be a "crime" if it wasn't supported by the industry.

In October, Scherf made an emotional plea in support of the fund during the International Simulcast Conference in Philadelphia. "This industry owes (disabled riders)," Scherf said. "Anybody anywhere should be contributing to that fund to take care of these people."

In a related matter, Manley said the Guild hopes to convince TRA-member tracks to restore their yearly "media rights' contributions which produced about $2 million to supplement health insurance for Guild members. Many tracks halted the payments given the turmoil under the previous Guild regime.