House Subcommittee Explores Jockey Insurance/Welfare

A day after a 16-year-old apprentice jockey died in a racing accident at an Ohio track, racing officials and representatives from horsemen's groups met Thursday before a Congressional subcommittee to report on their ongoing efforts in addressing safety, health, and welfare issues for jockeys and their perspectives on on-track injury insurance.

U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan expressed his condolences to the family of Josh Radosevich, the young rider who was fatally injured at Beulah Park Wednesday, as did several of the 17 individuals who were asked to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations as part of an ongoing investigation into jockey health and welfare issues.

"Josh's death reminds us that racing is a dangerous sport and we must do all we can to protect those in the sport," Stupak said.

Thursday's hearing was held in light of testimony given at the first subcommittee hearing Oct. 18 at which lawmakers learned that under president Dr. Wayne Gertmenian's watch, the Jockeys'Guild had allowed a $1-million catastrophic insurance policy for jockeys to lapse and then failed to formally notify its members that the policy no longer existed. This and other financial questions prompted Gertmenian's ouster by a new Guild board earlier this week.

"We're hopeful that under new leadership the Guild will become quite effective in what it set out to do, that is provide adequate health coverage for members of the Jockeys' Guild," said Subcommittee chairman U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky.

With that said, Whitfield pointed out there are still major concerns that need to be addressed in what he called a "fragmented" industry. Some of those questions are how involved the federal government should be in horse racing and whether the Interstate Horse Racing Act should be revisited to include jockeys as collective bargainers. As representatives from the industry reported their efforts in working to secure a $1 million catastrophic insurance policy for jockeys, the question was raised of whether there could be a federal workers' compensation model rather than a state-by-state solution.

Horsemen and racetrack representatives reminded congressmen that jockeys by law are considered independent contractors. When Stupak asked panelist Darrell Haire, interim national manager of the Jockeys' Guild, whether jockeys wanted to be independent contractors, he said: "We would like to have collective bargaining and work with racetracks to do the right thing."

Stupak proposed there be a federal solution for jockey workers' compensation. He commended the efforts made in California to provide workers' compensation, but attacked West Virginia racetracks -- Mountaineer and Charles Town -- that have seen tremendous boosts in purse revenues due to slots but have not as a result increased their insurance coverage for jockeys, which still stands at $100,000, the amount most Thoroughbred Racing Associations track members carry.

"If we all had programs like California we wouldn't be in here today," Stupak said.

He continued: "Tracks like California and New York which have 20th century labor laws should not have to compete with those states that still permit these courageous athletes to be treated like second-class citizens. They should be treated like any other highly-skilled, professional athlete, whose true value is recognized by their sport and valued."

While Stupak supports a federal solution to jockey insurance issues, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Joe Barton of Texas said he hoped there could be a voluntary solution among the industry.

"It is my hope that following our hearing that we can work together to find a solution, hopefully not a legislative solution, but do it on a voluntary basis," Barton said. "But I think we would be prepared to offer a legislative framework if such a framework is necessary."

Whitfield said there are no plans for another hearing at this time, yet the goal of the investigation is still to improve the conditions of workers in horseracing, including backstretch workers. He said that Gertmenian has still not responded to Subcommittee subpoenas for information regarding activities of his consulting firm Matrix Capital Associates that was hired to run the Guild. Contempt procedures are being considered, he said.

Thursday's meeting was divided into two panels of witnesses. The first panel included testimony from:Rose Mary Williams, director of racing, The Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort; John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations, Penn National Gaming; Christopher Scherf, executive vice president, Thoroughbred Racing Associations: D.G. Van Clief Jr., commissioner and chief executive officer, National Thoroughbred Racing Association: Steve Sexton, president, Churchill Downs; Don Amos, chief operating officer, Magna Entertainment Corp.; and Craig Fravel, executive vice president, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

On the second panel were:Daniel J. Metzger, president, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association; John Roark, president and chairman, National Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association; Martin A. Maline, executive director, Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association; Richard P. Riedel, executive director, Kentucky Racing Health & Welfare Fund. John Giovanni, former Jockeys' Guild national manager; Richard Violette, Thoroughbred trainer based at Belmont Park; Bernard J. Daney, chairman, Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission, Richard B. Shapiro, director, California Horse Racing Board; Richard Monahan, director and racing council chairman, American Quarter Horse Association: and Haire.