Horsemen Tackle Issue of Payroll Fees for Jockeys

The issue of how jockeys are paid surfaced during the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association winter convention in New Orleans, and apparently it has created some conflict in some racing jurisdictions around the country.

During a Feb. 2 panel discussion on a central bookkeeping system used by horsemen's associations, it was noted how horsemen's bookkeepers and other financial officials are responsible for paying jockeys mount fees and their share of purse money.

Marsha Roundtree, who oversees finances for the Texas Horsemen's Partnership, said paying riders is more complicated than paying owners because of factors not limited to Jockeys' Guild dues and alimony and child-support payments. She said the jockeys require "a lot of attention."

Louisiana currently charges jockeys 20 cents a mount to process paychecks. In Florida, it's 50 cents, though the racetracks reimburse the jockeys, according to officials. Other states are looking at charging fees as well, officials said.

"We're on the verge of making anyone who uses our services pay for them," said Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida HBPA.

THP executive director Tommy Azopardi said the fees weren't an issue when the organization was earning a decent interest rate on the $7 million to $8 million it usually has on hand to pay purses and mount fees. He said lower interest rates have taken away some revenue, so the THP has considered charging jockeys a fee for payroll processing. A figure of $1 per mount has been discussed, he said.

Albert Fiss, executive director of the Jockeys' Guild, attended the National HBPA convention but wasn't in the room during the bookkeeping discussion. He said Feb. 3 the Guild had no formal position on the issue, but he noted jockeys have told him they don't believe it's fair to be charged for receiving a paycheck.

The issue has simmered in Florida for about six months, with letters, telephone calls, and talk of a one-day strike. It led the Florida HBPA to get a legal opinion from an attorney who contends when a jockey is named on an overnight sheet to ride a horse, it's a contract to ride the horse.

"Threatening to strike over this issue is an absolute breach of contract, and we're taking a firm stand on that," Florida HBPA president Linda Mills said.

The payroll issue had nothing to do with the cancellation of racing at Gulfstream Park Feb. 1-2, Mills said. That was tied to the condition of the racing surface in the wake of heavy rains.