Jockeys' Guild chairman John Velazquez

Jockeys' Guild chairman John Velazquez

Nicole Maire

Jockeys Delay Saturday Card at Belmont Park

Riders expressed dissatisfaction with the state of ongoing contract negotiations.

Jockeys delayed the start of the first race at Belmont Park by 37 minutes May 12 to register their dissatisfaction with the state of ongoing contract negotiations between the Jockeys' Guild and the New York Racing Association.

Guild members spoke with NYRA's CEO and president Chris Kay and senior vice president of racing operations Martin Panza for about 45 minutes before heading out to the paddock to begin the 11-race card that includes five stakes. Post time for the $700,000 Man o' War Stakes (G1T), the final race of the day, was moved from 6:50 p.m. to 7:22 p.m. ET.

The unexpected action by jockeys, which was not announced until about a half hour before the start of the card, came nearly five months after an agreement had been reached in principal on a new contract.

"The (riders) were all here, and they felt we could have a conversation with (NYRA). We told them before the races, and the conversation went longer than anticipated," said jockey John Velazquez, chairman of the Jockeys' Guild.

While the scale of weights and health and insurance benefits have been mentioned as stumbling blocks in the negotiations, Velazquez said there was no single issue delaying an agreement.

"There's a lot of issues involved. We don't have a contract, and it's not just weights," he said. "Those issues need to be addressed. I felt we left the room with some progress. I hope it continues, and we get it done. There was never a thought about not riding. We're here to ride. We just want to make sure things get done."

Panza said NYRA had been negotiating in good faith with the Guild and its attorneys, and he was disappointed by the jockeys' sudden action.

"We negotiate with the Jockeys' Guild, and we thought that was (national manager) Terry Meyocks and his attorneys. The last time I talked to Terry, he said, 'Let the attorneys handle it,' so yeah, it wasn't the most professional way to handle it," Panza said. "I would have felt more comfortable if (Velazquez) and (jockey Javier Castellano) came into my office (and) said, 'Get Terry on the phone, and let's see where we're at.' There's two sides to negotiations, and nobody reacts well when their back is put up against the wall."

Panza said the scale of weights is more of a national issue that needs input from horsemen's groups to be settled.

"Some issues are easily resolved, and some aren't. Concussion protocols are very complex," he said. "Jockeys have a very difficult job. They make it look easy, but it's very dangerous, and I respect that and want to work with them as much as we can. But some of these issues are not that simple, and they need to be addressed nationally.

"That's the problem we're having today, and we tried to explain that. Jockeys in Maryland and Pennsylvania and all over the place—their weights should be raised, too. It's hard when you're running 3-year-old-and-up races in March, and you have a five-pound spread to begin with. How much weight are (you) going to put on the older horses? At the end of the day, it comes down to horsemen and owners. It's their animal. We need to work with them. The jockeys said they talked to (the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association) last, and NYTHA agreed (with them). If that's the case, so be it."

Panza also expressed hope that the impromptu talk between NYRA officials and members of the jockeys colony will keep negotiations on an even keel going forward.

"The nice thing is that they worked with us today, and we'll keep talking with them," he said. "We're still paying the Guild contract, so they are getting paid, and we are still negotiating in good faith."