Jockeys Threaten to Boycott Kentucky Derby

Jockeys John Velazquez and Jose Santos said Wednesday they might not ride in the Kentucky Derby if a federal judge bars them from wearing ads during the race.

A group of jockeys challenged the state law banning them from wearing any advertising, promotional or cartoon symbols. The jockeys argued the law violates the First Amendment. In a second suit, the jockeys argued they should also be allowed to wear a patch with the name of their union, the 1,100-member Jockeys' Guild.

The jockeys want U.S. District Judge John Heyburn to block the state law. The judge was expected to rule Wednesday.

Velazquez and Santos are part of the advertising lawsuit. Velazquez is set to ride Pollard's Vision in the Derby and Santos will be aboard Limehouse. Both horses are trained by Todd Pletcher.

"Basically, the threat is that we will be escorted out of the racetrack," Velazquez said on ESPN's "Cold Pizza" show. "If we will be escorted out of the racetrack, there will be no Kentucky Derby, put it that way."

Pletcher questioned whether Churchill Downs or the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, which enforces the rules, would have the right to escort jockeys off the track for having ads on their pants.

"I don't know if that's legal or not," he said. "Whether or not the jockey would actually refuse to ride in the Kentucky Derby, I don't know that, either. I'm sure that if some of these guys chose not to ride, there would be other guys that would choose to ride."

"The bottom line is I'm not concerned about it," he added.

Churchill Downs president Steve Sexton said the track doesn't have a problem with jockeys wearing advertising unless it conflicts with sponsors already on the property.

"We believe this is an opportunity for jockeys. We're OK with it," he said.

"I don't believe it will cheapen the event, as long as the parameters are defined and followed. We can make it work. We don't want it becoming too much, and that's discretionary. But we'll be reasonable," Sexton said.

Jerry Bailey, who will ride Wimbledon, and Shane Sellers, who will ride The Cliff's Edge, said sponsors offered them up to $30,000 to wear a corporate logo during the race. Sellers and Bailey said the ad would be placed on the right pants leg, where the most TV exposure is possible.

Bob Baffert, who trains Wimbledon, was unconcerned about a possible boycott.

"If and when we get to that bridge, we'll jump off or cross it," he said.

Richard Violette trains Read the Footnotes, to be ridden by Robby Albarado, who is involved in one of the lawsuits.

"I hope it doesn't get to that point. It would not be a fun day," Violette said about a boycott.

Other states, such as New York, California and Florida, permit jockeys to wear ads and the guild patch.

Pletcher said jockeys should be allowed to wear advertising if the owner of the horse they're riding gives approval.

Attorneys for the KHRA said Tuesday they worry that letting jockeys wear ads could lead to corruption.

Jockey Pat Day believes riders should be allowed to wear advertising, as long as it's tasteful.

"It's an opportunity to bring in some new money into the industry and give some opportunities to the riders that we have not had before," said Day, who is not part of the lawsuits.

Sellers and 13 other jockeys were fined $500 for wearing the guild patch during last year's Derby. They appealed the fine to a state court; that case is pending.