Hearing Set on Whether to Allow Jockey Ads in Derby

A federal judge is expected to rule this week on whether jockeys competing in this year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I) would be allowed to wear corporate advertising on their pants.

Five jockeys -- Jerry Bailey, Jose Santos, Shane Sellers, Alex Solis, and John Velazquez -- filed a motion in U.S. District Court seeking a temporary restraining order against a Kentucky rule that prohibits displays "not keeping in the tradition of the turf." Louisville attorney Ron Sheffer, who is representing the jockeys, called the rule "vague and ambiguous" and said it violates First Amendment rights.

A similar but unrelated motion was filed the week of April 19 by jockeys Robby Albarado, Brian Peck, and Sellers. That filing seeks permission to wear Jockeys' Guild patches during the Derby. Several riders wore the Guild patch in last year's race and were fined $500 by the Kentucky Racing Commission.

Both motions were filed when a request by jockeys to wear corporate or charitable logos in the Derby was denied by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, which was created this year in place of the commission.

The jockeys question why the logo for Visa, the sponsor of the Triple Crown, can appear on the saddlecloths in the Derby but everything else is excluded.

"They are taking money out of my pocket," Sellers said. "The KHRA's decision is not just a legal issue; it's a personal issue for me. My agent and I were in talks with a major corporation last week, and we had to call them this week and say thanks but no thanks."

Kelly Weitsma, president of Equisponse, a marketing firm representing the jockeys in the advertising case, said there had been positive talks with Churchill Downs officials for the past several weeks. However, talks ended when the racing authority indicated it would not allow jockeys to ride in the Derby with any advertising or promotional symbols.

"KHRA chairman Bill Street's decision to end talks and tell his lawyer that they would not alter the rule on advertising left us no option but to file suit," Weitsma said.

Julie Koenig, director of communications for Churchill, said the track's only concern would be if jockeys wore advertising for competitors of existing sponsors.
"That's the only point we would reserve the right to take action, if it was in direct competition to our existing partners," Koenig said.