Members of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority are still getting an introduction to their new roles, but that didn't stop them from changing a notable racing rule during a Feb. 16 meeting. Eleven of the 12 members present voted to temporarily suspend the rule that mandates what type of helmets jockeys must wear.
Jockeys must still wear helmets during morning workouts or racing, but for now, they don't have to meet any specific requirements. A non-specific helmet rule is standard practice in every other state.
Prior to the meeting, Jockeys' Guild member representative Darrell Haire had asked to address the group in the hope of changing the rule. About eight jockeys accompanied Haire, who argued the regulation that requires helmets to conform with the American Society of Testing Materials standard didn't give them enough options.
"The problem with this mandatory rule is this helmet is not safe because it does not fit properly," Haire said. "Maybe these helmets take the impact, but they haven't been perfected so they fit properly. They meet the specifications, but I think it needs more research."
Haire also said the primary company that made ASTM-approved helmets, Lexington Safety Products, is out of business, and no other state requires a specific type of helmet.
Rider Dean Butler spoke to the KHRA members and afterward discussed his frustration with the current rule.
"Each rider's going to wear the safest helmet," Butler said. "But when I came here from New Jersey and had to start wearing a new one, it never fit me right."
Butler said now that the rule has been changed, he'll go back to wearing a Caliente-style helmet, which fits him better and offers more protection to the back of his head.
The only person who spoke in favor of keeping the current regulation was Ned Bonnie, an equine attorney who was involved in making the change to the ASTM-approved helmets about three years ago. Bonnie argued the problem is helmets are being worn improperly, which is why they don't fit correctly.
However, jockey Rodney Prescott demonstrated clearly that even when securely fastened, the "Lexington" helmet can easily fall off. "I'll let you adjust it, and if you can get it to stay on my head, I'll give you $100," he said to one of the members.
On Bonnie's recommendation, the authority decided to form a committee to collect opinions and data before a decision is made.
In other business, chairman Bill Street informed the group that this year the racing commission's "pin policy" will not be renewed. Past racing commissions took heat for handing out hundreds of pins that allowed free entry into Kentucky racetracks, even on big race days. No one argued against Street's decision.
LaJuana Wilcher, secretary of the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet and an ex officio member of the authority, informed the group she received one proposal from a company bidding to perform an executive director search for the authority. The group voted to accept that proposal, assuming it meets all state requirements. Jesse Skees is serving as interim executive director.