Some Mid-Atlantic Jockeys Take Grassroots Approach

Jockeys at two racetracks in the Mid-Atlantic region are taking a grassroots approach to representation given what they believe to be ongoing conflict at the Jockeys' Guild, which represents riders around the country.

Anthony Black, a former treasurer at the Guild, and Robert Colton, the Guild's chief financial officer early in the regime of the deposed Dr. Wayne Gertmenian, said they are using the model of horsemen's groups that represent owners and trainers at various racetracks.

Black, currently active and the all-time leading rider at Philadelphia Park, and Colton, who has retired, discussed their activities on the June 28 edition of "At the Races and Beyond," a Florida-based racing talk show broadcast on Sirius Satellite Radio. They also weighed in on the decision by the Guild to hire sports agent Dwight Manley and civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson as their national co-managers.

"Tony and I have been active the last few months, discussing the horsemen's model," said Colton, who remains active in jockey issues at Delaware Park. "We're trying to develop a similar business model, and formed jockeys' associations at Philadelphia Park and Delaware Park."

Black said the Philly Park group has been recognized by the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission. He said the group is "seriously negotiating" with Philly Park management to increase the minimum on-track accident insurance benefit from $100,000.

"We've got participation from local riders," Black said. "We know what the problems are at that particular track, and we're not spending lots of money (to accomplish our goals). Bobby's group is doing the same thing at Delaware Park. We're not spending millions of dollars to do it."

Colton said the jockeys' group was actively involved in racetrack safety legislation sponsored by Delaware Rep. Bill Oberle in the wake of the death of harness driver Hal Belote in a May racing accident at Harrington Raceway.

Black, no longer a Guild member, earlier in the show said the Guild "has turned $6 million into $6,000." He said he wasn't a supporter of Gertmenian, whose Matrix Capital Associates was hired in 2001 after national manager John Giovanni was ousted in an overnight coup, and believes the Guild should hire an "experienced person with racetrack savvy."

"You've still got the same people making decisions," Colton said of the Guild board of directors.

Colton, who was instrumental in the hiring of Gertmenian but later said he made a mistake, believes pending lawsuits could ruin the Guild. One of them was filed by jockey Gary Birzer, who was paralyzed in a 2004 racing accident and later found out his catastrophic insurance covered only $100,000 in expenses; also, Gertmenian is seeking to be paid through 2009 as per the contract approved by the Guild board in late 2004.

"There's no defense," Colton said. "(The Birzer suit) could end it all. It's a bleak picture with the lawsuits they have against them."

Guild officials said June 26 they're optimistic the organization's financial picture will brighten, but that pending litigation is a major concern.

The Guild hasn't issued a formal statement about the hiring of Manley and Jackson, though Guild chairman John Velazquez told Daily Racing Form the organization had done so June 26 after a Guild senate meeting. Dave Stevenson, a candidate for the job, said he was told Manley had gotten the contract.

The issue has stirred up some Guild members, particularly those based on the East Coast. Black indicated he thinks the national group may be in trouble; he said if the Guild's journey was described in an official race chart, it would read: "Dwelt at start, pulled up lame, did not finish."