CHRB Focuses on Jockey Safety Issues

The California Horse Racing Board turned its attention to jockey protection at its meeting July 20 at Del Mar, moving along one rule change that would make safety reins mandatory and a second that revises criteria for vest standards.

The board also gave preliminary approval to requiring stewards to include information on jockey injuries in their minutes and provide those reports to the jockey, his agent, the Jockeys¹ Guild and the horse's owner.

All three measures, approved separately, are subject to a 45-day public comment period before the commission can give them final consideration.

Nylon safety reins have been optional in California and board members said they wanted to hear from the industry before making them mandatory.

Arthur Gray, a former harness race trainer and 25-year New York steward, showed a brief video of cases where jockeys and drivers lost control of their charges due to a snapped rein and the mayhem that can result. He patented a nylon rein that is stitched into the traditional leather rein so that in the event the main strap breaks due to wear or moisture, the jockey or driver can still retain control.

Darrell Haire, the Jockeys' Guild interim national manager, said the Guild "is strongly in support" of the adoption of safety reins.

"Almost every jockey has experienced it (a broken rein), whether in the morning or in the afternoon," said Haire, who compared it to a car breaking a steering wheel off. "There¹s nothing more scary to riders. They feel like jumping off at 30 to 35 miles per hour. It's that scary."

Chairman Richard Shapiro said the Association of Racing Commissioners International is "favorably inclined" toward recommending adoption of the safety rein, but Gray said the industry has been slow to get behind the idea. He noted that a number of trainers, including Todd Pletcher, are using safety reins but no jurisdiction has yet mandated it.

"Nobody wants to go first," Gray said.

Trainer John Shirreffs told the board he's seen riders and horses get hung up in the reins. "One of the things we like about leather reins is they will break" in such circumstances, he said.

Ben Kenney, president of the California Harness Horsemen's Association, said in a letter to the CHRB that his group opposes the safety rein because of cost.

Gray said the rein, which would be manufactured by the same companies that produce the traditional ones, would cost about $20 more. His company, Sure Lines, would receive a $3 to $5 patent fee on each one sold.

California¹s safety vest standards, modeled on the British Equestrian Trade Association¹s requirements, would be modified in accordance with changes in BETA directives for absorbency and protection. Currently, a level 5 standard is required but the change would mandate a level 1. In addition, the Jockeys¹ Guild is also seeking approval of a safety vest that meets the standard of the American Society for Testing Materials that would be the equivalent of the BETA model.

Elsewhere, the board, responding to a mandate from the California Legislature, directed its staff to prepare a draft conflict of interest statement. Executive director Ingrid Fermin said the CHRB has contacted other state agencies to see their confilict of interest policies.

Commissioner John Harris said the board needs a conflict of interest policy because of the number of owners on the board.