Most NTRA-Member Tracks Hike Jockeys' Insurance

Nine racetracks have increased their minimum on-track accident insurance for jockeys to $500,000 or $1 million since a Nov. 17, 2005 Congressional subcommittee hearing at which lawmakers examined jockey health, welfare, and safety issues.

With the nine tracks--most of them members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association--having increased the minimum coverage, 90% of NTRA-member racetracks now offer coverage up to $500,000 or $1 million. The increase was recommended by an NTRA working group formed in the fall of 2004 to come up with alternatives after a Jockeys' Guild insurance policy was discontinued.

NTRA commissioner D.G. Van Clief Jr. outlined the developments in a Jan. 18 letter to U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky and U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan. The two Congressmen are members of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, which thus far has held two Washington, D.C., hearings on jockey-related issues.

Since Nov. 17, the following tracks have increased coverage: Charles Town Races & Slots and Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort in West Virginia; Blue Ribbon Downs in Oklahoma; Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino in Louisiana; Oaklawn Park in Arkansas; Penn National Race Course in Pennsylvania; Sam Houston Race Park in Texas; Tampa Bay Downs in Florida; and Turf Paradise in Arizona.

The following tracks had increased coverage before the hearing: Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course in Illinois; Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park in Florida; Canterbury Park in Minnesota; Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, and Turfway Park in Kentucky; Colonial Downs in Virginia; Delaware Park; Emerald Downs in Washington; Fair Grounds (at Louisiana Downs); Great Lakes Downs in Michigan; Hoosier Park in Indiana; Lone Star Park in Texas; Portland Meadows in Oregon; Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Iowa; Remington Park in Oklahoma; Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino in New Mexico; and Thistledown in Ohio.

"We're delighted that the working group and the NTRA were able to identify an alternative solution that has led to broad-based coverage at the vast majority of racetracks across the country not covered with workers' compensation or, in the case of Magna Entertainment Corp. properties, by another policy," Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of communications for the NTRA, said in follow-up comments.

American Insurance Group has written most or all of the racetrack policies. Industry officials said it became increasingly evident $500,000 would be the minimum for which a company would write such a policy.

Riders at racetracks in California, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York are covered by state workers' comp programs, the premiums for which are largely funded through industry contributions. A Kentucky Horse Racing Authority subcommittee has developed recommendations for a workers' comp program for the state, though legislation hasn't been written.

The insurance issue came under the microscope when jockey Gary Birzer was paralyzed in a racing accident at Mountaineer in 2004. He wasn't aware his Guild policy, which offered up to $1 million in on-track accident coverage, had lapsed, and he therefore received only $100,000 under the old Mountaineer policy.