Insurance Conflict Leads to Jockeys' Ejection

The conflict over adequate medical insurance for jockeys continued to escalate Nov. 7 when Churchill Downs escorted several riders from the grounds after they refused to accept mounts for the Nov. 11 program.

Churchill Downs received commitments from at least nine jockeys to ride Nov. 10 through the remainder of the fall meet, which ends Nov. 27. Track officials expected to speak with several other riders before entries were taken Nov. 9 for the Nov. 11 program.

The riders met after the races Nov. 7 with Churchill Downs president Steve Sexton, who sought a commitment from the jockeys to ride Nov. 11, the track said in a release. Those who refused to do so would be ejected from the track for the remaining 14 days of the 21-day meet.

"We believe the concern expressed by the jockeys over insurance coverage is a legitimate issue, but we do not agree with their approach to addressing that concern," Sexton said. "The issue of health coverage for jockeys is one that demands and deserves industry-wide study and action. We are eager to participate in the effort to address that problem, but it would not be responsible for Churchill Downs to agree to any knee-jerk attempt to achieve a solution over the space of a few days."

Sexton said Churchill provides health coverage of up to $100,000 to all riders during each racing day even though it isn't required to do so. Churchill also joins fellow tracks in the Thoroughbred Racing Associations in providing $2.2 million each year to the Jockeys' Guild for health coverage.

"Jockeys are independent contractors and are not employees of Churchill Downs or any other racetrack," Sexton said. "Independent contractors in all other phases of the economy must accept the cost of their insurance coverage. We recognize the risks faced by our riders each day, but this is not an issue that Churchill Downs or any other track can settle. It is an important issue the requires the attention of the entire industry."

In a recent interview, National Thoroughbred Racing Association commissioner D.G. Van Clief Jr. said the organization could facilitate formation of a task force to study the insurance issue.

The NTRA and Breeders' Cup teamed up with Lone Star Park to increase the minimum coverage for riders for three days the week of the World Thoroughbred Championships. Jockeys' Guild officials, however, said the move was an admission that insurance coverage is inadequate.

Along with Pat Day, riders who have committed to accept mounts for the Nov. 11 card include Larry Melancon, John McKee, Brian Hernandez, Jr., Brice Blanc, Eddie Martin, Jr., Joe Johnson, Tammy Fox, and Juan Molina, Jr. About 12 others were yet to be contacted by the track.

Jockeys who declined to accept mounts for Nov. 11 and have been ejected from the track for the remainder of the 21-day meet include Rafael Bejarano, Robby Albarado, Mark Guidry, Calvin Borel, Willie Martinez, and Craig Perret.