Philly Jockeys Again Ask Panel for Insurance Help

Jockeys at Philadelphia Park again have asked the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission to facilitate an agreement between riders and track management on catastrophic-injury insurance coverage.

At issue is the amount of insurance coverage and who should be responsible for the premium. Led by longtime rider Anthony Black, Philadelphia Park Jockeys--local riders formed their own organization, though some are members of the national Jockeys' Guild--is lobbying for significant upgrades in insurance.

Currently, jockeys at the Bensalem Township racetrack have $100,000 in injury insurance, significantly lower than many other tracks around the country, including Penn National Race Course, another Pennsylvania track that covers its riders up to $1 million. Black said a meeting between jockeys and management earlier in August went poorly, and negotiations have broken off.

The 54-year old Black asked the commission to oversee the next meeting in the hope a neutral third party could help what he calls a "perilous situation." The issue was first addressed at the commission's July meeting.

Officials at Philly Park have said the riders should pursue workers' compensation insurance through the state legislature, and that additional insurance coverage isn't the track's responsibility. In a recent interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Park chief executive officer Hal Handel said the track made a "significant offer" to the jockeys, but they turned it down and left the meeting.

"We welcome any suggestions the commission could offer, because at this point our negotiations are absolutely stalled," Black said. "The only consolation right now is that no kids have hit the ground and need the million dollars. But it's inevitable. The law of averages says it's going to happen.

"I have been told by certain name riders that I will not mention--some of the elite riders in the country--they will not come to Philly Park until the insurance issue is settled. They are absolutely taking that stand."

The next major program at Philly Park is scheduled for Oct. 7, when the $500,000 Fitz Dixon Cotillion Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) for fillies and mares and the $100,000 Gallant Bob Handicap for 3-year-old sprinters will be run. This year's $750,000 Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) was canceled because the facility is under construction to prepare for slot machines.

Philadelphia Park Jockeys was locally formed earlier this year because of uncertainty with the Jockeys' Guild. The Guild, however, recently hired Dwight Manley as its national manager, and Guild representatives have visited Philly Park to lobby for support.

In other business at the Aug. 23 racing commission meeting, Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board assistant chief counsel Kevin Hayes outlined the final steps to the long-awaited installation of slots at the state's racetracks. Hayes said pre-hearing conferences would begin the week of Aug. 28 for each of the six tracks that are applying for slots. Three of the six are Thoroughbred tracks--Philly Park, Penn National, and Presque Isle Downs, which is under construction near Erie.

The gaming control board will then hold official licensing hearings Sept. 11-12 for all six of the Category 1 slots applications. On Sept. 27 the board will hold another meeting to perhaps announce its decisions. If the tracks get conditional licenses, each one must pay $50 million to have gaming at their facility.

In all, Pennsylvania is expected to have 14 gaming facilities throughout the state and a total of 61,000 gaming machines. The revenue from the slots is projected to be about $3 billion per year, with a percentage of the money earmarked for the racing industry.