By Chris McCarron
When I started riding in 1974, my brother, Gregg, and the late Bill Shoemaker were active members of the Jockeys' Guild and they shared strong sentiments about improving conditions for jockeys. I admired both of them immensely and quickly came to realize the dangers of life as a professional jockey, so I became an active member of the Guild. In 1987, my wife, Judy, comedian Tim Conway, and I established the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund to provide assistance to injured jockeys and exercise riders. Through its national fund-raiser, Jockeys Across America, and many other fund-raising events, the MacBeth Fund has raised and distributed more than $2.5 million to more than 1,600 riders and their families since then. I was involved as a member and officer of the Guild for many years, and in 2001, I came to the conclusion that while the longtime National Managing Director John Giovanni, himself a former jockey, had worked hard and passionately on behalf of the riders, the Guild really needed someone with more sophisticated business experience, especially in the area of negotiating contracts. I had met Wayne Gertmenian, an economics professor at Pepperdine University, in 1994, and as I got to know him, I considered him to be an intelligent, hard-working, compassionate, and devout family man. I thought with his resumé and expertise, he would be well-suited to lead the Guild. Well, I guess we all know how that turned out. As I said when I testified before Congress a few months ago, it was the worst mistake I've ever made. I've had many sleepless nights in the past two years because of this. In my whole life, I don't think I've ever misjudged a person's character like I did his. Less than two years after Gertmenian assumed control of the Guild, I began to have my doubts about his character, his credentials, and his practices--and I expressed those concerns to board members and Guild members at every opportunity. When I questioned Gertmenian directly and publicly, I was dismissed from the Guild's advisory council. By then, he had convinced others within the jockey colony that he could improve their plight to the point they re-elected him and rewarded him with a new contract in the fall of 2004. Obviously, I feel responsible for bringing Gertmenian to the Guild. But I do not feel responsible for what transpired after I did my best to inform many Guild members of my concerns. And, as I said in my testimony before Congress, I knew nothing about--and had nothing to do with--the cancellation of the catastrophic insurance policy that really precipitated the deeply disturbing events of the past few years, and especially the past few months. While my public remarks have been limited, I have apologized and expressed my sincere remorse to many people affected by his actions, including Amy and Gary Birzer, and John Giovanni, for the way he and his staff were treated when Gertmenian took control of the Guild. And I have talked to many other riders around the country, expressing my regret over the way things turned out. Now that he has been removed, I hope the Guild can get back on its feet and help its members in the days and years ahead. The jockey school I set out to establish in Lexington has made progress in recent months. When it becomes a reality, future jockeys will be better prepared and better informed about health, welfare, and insurance issues. I was a jockey for 28 years and I will always think like a jockey and do what I can to support my brethren. I consider my allegiance to the jockeys very important and I trust the jockeys who know me feel I have lived up to that. Going forward, I can only hope that when the sad chapter involving Wayne Gertmenian is revisited, people in this industry, especially the jockeys, will remember and appreciate my career-long commitment to the welfare of riders, whether it came in the form of my years of service to the Guild, the ongoing good work of the MacBeth Fund, or the creation and eventual success of the North American Racing Academy.