NTRA, Others Asked to Provide Information on Rider Issues

Several industry organizations are the latest to be asked for information in connection with an inquiry by the United States House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations into the health and safety of jockeys, exercise riders, and backstretch workers.

Rep. Ed Whitfield, chair of the subcommittee, sent letters May 6 to D.G. Van Clief Jr., commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and president of Breeders' Cup, John Roark, president of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, and Joe Harper, president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and the Thoroughbred Racing Associations. Whitfield had earlier contacted the Guild, which already has shipped documents to Washington, D.C.

"While the issues surrounding the Guild's management and the welfare of its jockey members are very important, I am equally concerned about the health and welfare of all the individuals who are so vital to the multibillion-dollar horse racing industry--jockeys, exercise riders, and other backstretch workers," Whitfield said in his letters.

"Although these individuals are often overlooked due to the focus on the impressive horses and the exciting races, their welfare should not be an afterthought, but rather a key aspect of a healthy horseracing industry. Without these riders and workers there would be no racing.

"I am committed to ensuring that the industry devotes the appropriate resources and attention to their health and welfare."

Jeff Miles, an aide in Whitfield's Washington, D.C., office, said the three organizations basically are being asked for background information and their opinions. He said the tone of the letters is typical of such inquiries.

"These letters are very different than those that went to (the Jockeys' Guild)," Miles said. "We're not asking them for documents. They are industry leaders, and we're looking for their thoughts and ideas. It's not like we're saying, 'Give us this because we're concerned (about their activities).' "

Whitfield, who represents Kentucky in Congress, said the subcommittee inquiry is ongoing into the "adequacy of on-track injury health insurance for jockeys, and the absence of such injury-related health insurance for many individuals on the backstretch who are employed by horsemen to exercise and care for the racehorses."

Whitfield in his letters has requested the organizations describe in detail what the industry is doing to address the issues, and to say if Thoroughbred owners, trainers, breeders, or racetracks "bear any responsibility for ensuring that all human participants in the horseracing industry have adequate health coverage for on-track or work-related injuries."

The congressman also seeks information on efforts made by the industry to improve the safety and welfare of jockeys, exercise riders, and backstretch workers, and wants the NTRA, National HBPA, and TRA to detail "agreements or contracts" they have to that effect. Whitfield is calling for the organizations to detail "handle distributions" in all racing states.

His letters also ask: "Does the NTRA support the creation of a national mechanism, similar to workers' compensation, for ensuring that all human participants in the horse racing industry are adequately covered in the event of injury while working in the industry?" He then asks for a detailed explanation of the position.

Whitfield asks: "Is the NTRA or its members aware of Thoroughbred horse racing owners and trainers using illegal immigrants as exercise riders and backstretch workers? If so, describe the extent to which the NTRA or its members consider this a problem in the industry.

"Does the NTRA or its members believe that illegal immigrants impact horsemen's employment payrolls and the ability to provide adequate injury coverage for exercise riders and backstretch workers?"

Whitfield has requested the NTRA, National HBPA, and TRA respond no later than May 20. Miles said hearings related to the subcommittee inquiry could be held in two to three months.