Jockeys' Guild Readies For Battle Over Derby Day Patch

Lawyers for the Jockeys' Guild believe there was nothing illegal about the patch with the organization's logo worn by the riders of the Kentucky Derby May 3. Guild officials plan to vigorously defend the accusation from the Kentucky Racing Commission that the patch was in offense of the state's rules of racing.

The 14 jockeys that wore the Jockeys' Guild logo on their pant leg in the Derby have been summoned by the Kentucky Racing Commission for a hearing May 16, the day before the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). Guild officials said they have been notified by their lawyers that the rule governing jockey's attire in Kentucky does not address such a circumstance and the commission does not have the right to offer such a wide interpretation.

The section of the Kentucky rules of racing dealing with jockey attire state "advertising, promotional, or cartoon symbols or wording which in the opinion of the commission are not in keeping with the traditions of the turf shall be prohibited."

Guild administrator Dr. Wayne Gertmenian, a professor at Pepperdine University, said the Jockeys' Guild logo does not violate any stipulation of the rule. He said the commission is over-interpreting the rule by including the organization's logo.

"The rule did not explicitly say it was not allowed, which means now they have a very interesting problem," Gertmenian said. "Clearly this was not an advertisement; it had nothing to do with pornography, alcohol, or cigarettes. There is nothing in my experience that said this couldn't be done."

According to Gertmenian's account, Churchill Downs' officials were notified the jockeys were considering wearing the logo the Friday evening before the Derby. Chief steward Bernie Hettel, who is also the executive director of the Kentucky Racing Commission, was not at the track at the time.

Gertmenian said he and the Guild's lawyers approached Hettel before the first race Saturday morning. They told Hettel they had read over the rule of jockey attire and believed there was nothing illegal about wearing the patch. Gertmenian said Hettel never offered a response, and in fact, never even acknowledged their presence.

"He must believe in the back of the neck theory," Gertmenian said. "His rudeness was astounding. My counterparts when I was negotiating with the Soviet Union were not even this rude."

Gertmenian, according to his biography at Pepperdine, has served in a variety of capacities for the federal government since the Richard Nixon administration. These included chief d├ętente negotiator with Moscow during the Cold War. Hettel was not at Churchill Downs Friday and was unavailable for comment.

Gertmenian said later on Derby day he notified the jockeys the commission could take issue with the patch. But all 14 voted to wear the patch anyway as a sign of solidarity. Abstaining were Pat Day, who left the Guild upon the takeover by Gertmenian's Matrix Capital Associates; and Jerry Bailey, who in 2001 resigned from the Guild's board of directors.

"We asked what are you guys going to do?" Gertmenian recalled. "They voted unanimously, with the exception of Pat Day and Jerry Bailey, to wear the patch. So we went back and told track management, 'Do you really want to have a war over this, on Derby day, for a 2-inch patch?"

Two days later the commission sent all 14 jockeys a letter requesting their presence at a 1 p.m. hearing on May 16. Gertmenian said the Guild has yet to formulate a strategy in defense of the jockeys, "but we will of course do all we can to protect them."