Stiffer Helmet Rule in Kentucky May Have to be Altered or Waived

A stiff rule mandating the standards that must be met for helmets worn by jockeys riding in Kentucky may have to be waived or altered to accommodate riders, especially those from Europe, participating in the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4.

Following Monday's meeting of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, executive director Jim Gallagher said the regulatory board is reviewing the rule which requires all jockey helmets to meet the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials. The enforcement will begin at the Sept. 6 opening of Turfway Park.

Under the rule, the racetracks' clerk of scales will determine whether a jockey is wearing an approved helmet before the rider weighs out prior to a race. If it is determined that that rider is not in compliance with the rule, he or she will not be permitted to ride.
Although the rule has been in effect since 1999, enforcement has not been pursued due to the limited number of helmets being manufactured that meet the standard.

According to Ned Bonnie, an attorney and equestrian who helped draft the Kentucky helmet rule, there are a number of companies making ASTM/SEI-approved riding helmets. The leading producer of the approved helmets is the Charles Owens & Co. Others include Del Mar Helmets, Troxel, Devon-Aire, Equine Science Marketing, Intec Corporation and International Riding Helmets.

Jim Gallagher, KHRA executive director, said the state racing authority is working alongside the Jockeys' Guild and the Charles Owens Company to provide more information to riders in other jurisdictions.

Jeff Johnston, the recently-retired jockey who is now a regional manager for The Jockeys' Guild, said the organization supports the efforts by the Kentucky racing authority but that they would like to see greater flexibility as far as which helmets are permitted.

Johnston noted that some leading U.S. jockeys and most of those riding in Europe use a helmet that meets British testing standards but is not ASTM-approved because the manufacturer does not sell it in the U.S. due to liability issues.

Rather than grant a waiver of the rule to jockeys coming into Kentucky on a temporary basis for the Breeders' Cup, Gallagher said the racing authority would work to see if the British helmet, and one from Japan, meet the stiffer standards. If so, the rule could be amended to accommodate those helmets rather than instituting a waiver of the rule.