Panel Hears Industry Opinions on Jockey Insurance

A blue ribbon panel to study and resolve jockey insurance issues in Kentucky entertained opinions from industry representatives, including jockeys and owners, Thursday about what form jockeys' insurance should take in the Commonwealth and who should pay for it.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher appointed the 11-member panel that includes representatives from the General Assembly, horsemen's organizations, a jockeys' organization, and racetracks, and directed the group to issue a report with recommendations to his office by Sept. 1.

The panel, which met for the first time in late June, is looking at a workers' compensation model similar to the state of New York in which jockeys are considered employees of the workers' comp fund.

At Thursday's meeting, The Jockeys' Guild vice president Albert Fiss said jockeys should not bear the cost of whatever insurance plan is eventually presented to lawmakers.

"The question is who is going to pay?" Fiss said. "I don't have the answer to that because I don't have the books of the industry in front of me, but I know who shouldn't pay. Who shouldn't be paying are the jockeys and the exercise riders. They're not the ones making the money in this industry."

Other jockeys present were retired Hall of Fame rider Chris McCarron, Tony D'Amico, who was forced to retire after suffering an injury last year, and active rider Rodney Prescott. Guild member representative and former rider Darrell Haire is a panel member.

"I just don't see how (jockeys) can afford to pay for it," Prescott told the panel.

Prescott, who is currently ranked second in wins and 68th in earnings this year said only the top 100 riders of roughly 1,300 active riders in the U.S. make enough to afford their own accident insurance policy.

"Just to give you an idea of how much jockeys actually make, my earnings are $1,840,630, and of that I actually take home $156,453," Prescott said. "Out of that, my agent gets $39,113 and my valets get $15,645. I've spent $2,400 so far in tack this year. I've driven 28,000 miles--that's $4,025 in gas. (I've paid) $3,500 for family insurance. Guild insurance is $3,357, which leaves me with $88,413."

Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association president Dan Metzger said jockeys are currently considered independent contractors who, with that status, should be responsible for their own accident insurance and asked the panel to consider this when devising their recommendations.

"If responsibilities regarding accident insurance are to be transferred then a new compensation model needs to be developed, one that compensates for the transfer of responsibility and requires all parties to contribute to the funding of an accident insurance plan," Metzger said.

"Owners invest well over $2 billion a year to this sport, yet race for only $1 billion in purses," Metzger added. "Expecting owners to pick up the entire tab for accident insurance, as in the New York model, is not a way to keep owners in our sport. Owners are willing to contribute, but they're looking for a broad industry-wide coalition to keep this together."

Fiss said the Guild's contribution is overlooked.

"Jockeys do contribute," Fiss said after the meeting. "Last year the Guild spent $750,000 for payment to disabled jockeys. Chris McCarron's foundation, which is mostly supported by jockeys, spent well in excess of $400,000 taking care of disabled jockeys. So to suggest, as Mr. Metzger does, that jockeys aren't contributing, is a complete fallacy."

National Thoroughbred Racing Association senior vice president Keith Chamblin agreed with Metzger that all parties should be involved in the funding of a broad base plan that also includes exercise riders and other backstretch workers.

"I think if we can come up with that type of broad base arrangement along with some way for jockeys to participate in this funding, I have no doubt we can find a viable solution not only for Kentucky but for the whole industry," said Chamblin, who chaired an NTRA working group on jockey insurance last year and early this year.

The blue ribbon panel will meet again July 20.