Jockeys' Fund Unites Industry, But IHA Plan a Question

The launch of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund is a clear sign the relationship between jockeys and other industry groups is improving, but they remain at odds over a proposal by some members of Congress to amend the Interstate Horseracing Act to provide insurance for jockeys and others who make their living at the racetrack.

The new fund, which supporters hope reaches $1 million by the end of the year, is designed to aid permanently disabled jockeys and their families in the United States and Canada. It was announced earlier this year, but officials used a May 18 press conference for what Magna Entertainment Corp. chief operating officer Don Amos called a "symbolic launch."

Amos was joined by jockey John Velazquez, chairman of the Jockeys' Guild, during the event held at Pimlico Race Course. They said the Guild, racetracks, and horsemen's groups are meeting regularly on the new fund, which has $250,000 worth of pledges from industry associations.

"We've working together for the past six to nine months and are making great progress," Amos said. "There are three-to-four major items we're working on. We're coming up with a checklist of what has to be done from a health and safety standpoint. We're not just going to talk about it...We're going to have an action plan for each facility."

"This is very important for us to be united for a great cause," Velazquez said. "It's encouraging everybody has come to the table to talk about a cause."

Amos said organizers hope every Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse track gets on board for the program, which began Preakness Stakes (gr. I) week with the sale of hats and wristbands. The fund is now under the auspices of NTRA Charities, but organizers eventually will establish a separate fund. The Guild also has an endowment for which funds are still being accepted.

For the past few months, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky has been working on legislation that would funnel money for insurance for jockeys and backstretch workers from simulcasts. Whitfield and other lawmakers believe there is enough money in the pari-mutuel system to support a national insurance plan.

Following the May 18 press conference at Pimlico, Darrell Haire, interim national manager for the Guild, told The Blood-Horse jockeys support the efforts by Whitfield and others even though there is resistance to the plan by tracks and horsemen's groups that would rather not have Congress open up the Interstate Horseracing Act.

"Let's sit down and talk about it," Haire said. "What can of worms are we opening? Show us. We want the industry to thrive, and we want to work with the industry. We are willing to sit down and talk about it. We want to be involved."

During a recent Congressional hearing on jockey health and welfare issues, lawmakers said they intend to pursue an IHA amendment. The law, enacted in 1978 and amended in 2000, governs cross-state simulcasts and account wagering. They also suggested there could be an effort to push for collective bargaining by jockeys.

Haire said many racetracks are again contributing money--it used to be considered a payment for media rights--to the Guild each year. Some of them suspended the payments in the wake of turmoil linked to former Guild chief executive officer Dr. Wayne Gertmenian and his management team.

"We're still in the red big time," Haire said, "but we are getting that money again. We're not for profit. All we want to do is take care of our riders."