Kentucky Insurance Panel to Recommend Worker's Comp

A committee established by Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher to come up with a recommendation on a jockey insurance plan agreed Thursday on a workers' compensation policy to be funded evenly between racetracks, owners, and jockeys. Trainers would be left responsible for workers' compensation insurance for their exercise riders.

Bumping up against the Sept. 1 deadline Fletcher issued in May, the 11- member panel met Thursday morning to finalize their recommendation. However, there was still much debate about funding details and some panel members still expressed concern about not having enough industry data to go forward with a numbers-based proposal.

Committee chairman Tom Ludt said the panel would also recommend changing licensing procedures in the state so exercise riders are coded differently than jockeys and apprentices for tracking purposes.

"In essence, we would be asking for a legislation change so that the responsibility of an exercise rider for workers' compensation purposes will be the responsibility of the trainer and that a fund would be set up for jockeys to be covered for live racing funded by the owner's fee, the track contributing, and the jockeys contributing by a purse reduction," said Ludt, who is also a member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority.

"In the interim we will ask the tracks to continue the $1 million accident disability policy, with the intention of this going into legislation in '06 with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2007."

The recommendation unanimously voted on by the committee calls for racetracks to contribute $450,000; owners to contribute a percentage of the start fee ($20 per start fee); and jockeys to pay 1% of their winning purse earnings, taking home 9% rather than the current 10%.

Ludt said in addition to the primary recommendation the committee will include a list of alternative ways of drawing funds to support the policy premium.

LaJuana Wilcher, secretary of the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet which oversees the KHRA, suggested the policy also be funded in part by the betting public by a one-quarter percent increase in the pari-mutuel takeout at Kentucky racetracks. Jockey Guild member representative Darrell Haire supported this idea while racetrack representatives Steve Sexton, president of Churchill Downs, and Harvie Wilkinson, vice president of Keeneland, strongly opposed it.

Currently, Kentucky racetracks voluntarily provide $1 million in on-track accident insurance coverage for jockeys, which costs about $450,000. Sexton said Churchill Downs would continue to provide its current coverage for an interim period.

At the last committee meeting in August, Ludt estimated the minimum cost of workers' comp insurance for jockeys would be $1.25 million to $1.5 million a year. He said that figure would not be known until bids were solicited from insurers, some time in 2006 at the earliest. He noted the minimum workers' comp premium cost for any trainer would be $750 annually.

Ludt said he will circulate a draft of the recommendation to panel members for review before a final report is sent to the governor.