Breeders' Cup, NTRA Hike Jockeys' Insurance at Lone Star

As concern over the amount of medical insurance for jockeys at most racetracks continues to grow, Breeders' Cup and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association announced Oct. 22 that it has arranged for increase coverage at Lone Star Park Oct. 28-30.

In Texas, as well as many other states, medical expenses are capped at $100,000. Breeders' Cup and NTRA raised the limit to $500,000.

The World Thoroughbred Championships will be held Oct. 30. The Oct. 28 program will feature the International Jockey Championship.

"We are pleased that we are able to significantly boost the level of insurance coverage for the athletes who add so much to the Breeders' Cup," D.G. Van Clief Jr., Breeders' Cup president and NTRA commissioner, said in a release.

Insurance polices vary from state to state, and racetracks use different companies. Workers' compensation is available in only five states. In July, jockey Gary Birzer was injured and paralyzed in an accident at Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort, and wasn't covered for the bulk of his escalating medical bills.

Birzer's plight has heightened the push for insurance reform.

"We've been in the process of talking to racetracks for a long time," said Darrell Haire, a retired jockey and national representative for the Jockey's Guild. "It's ridiculous. These riders have the most dangerous occupation. This definitely has to be addressed."

Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens told The Blood-Horse he wouldn't participate in the World Thoroughbred Championships or in any other state without workers' compensation to cover complete medical expenses for injured jockeys. The 41-year-old rider's decision also means he has declined to participate in the International Jockey Championship at Lone Star.

"I won't ride the Breeders' Cup or any other state without workers' comp,' Stevens said. "That includes Texas, Kentucky, Florida, and several others. Had I known that was the case in Kentucky, I wouldn't have ridden there (the weekend of Oct. 16). I wasn't aware I wasn't completely covered."

Stevens said he made his decision to restrict his riding to states that cover jockeys under individual trainers' workers' comp policies, including California, New Jersey, and New York, several days ago but decided against traveling to Texas after two days of negotiations with Lone Star president Corey Johnsen.

Stevens had sought unlimited coverage, but said Johnsen told him that wasn't possible because no insurance company would offer it. Stevens said there was some talk the maximum could be hiked to $1 million for the three-day period, but that didn't materialize.