Frustrated with what the Jockeys' Guild says has been a failure by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance to enforce requirements for human athletes, the Guild has left the industry organization that aims to improve safety through accreditation of qualifying tracks.
On May 14 the Guild forwarded a Feb. 6 letter outlining concerns about the alliance and the decision to withdraw from the industry group, which carries no regulatory authority but attempts to bring some level of consistency in safety policies to North American tracks.
In the letter, Guild national manager Terry Meyocks said withdrawing from the alliance was not a step it takes lightly.
"However, based on the responses we have received from the NTRA over the last several months and its continued failure to enforce the requirements pertaining to the human athletes, it is apparent the safety and well-being of the jockeys and human athletes in our sport as referenced in the preamble, as well as the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance Code of Standards, is being ignored," Meyocks said.
Alliance executive director Steve Koch said the Guild and his group haven't seen eye to eye on some compliance issues.
"There are elements in the code of standards where 'meaningful achievement' includes meeting the intent of the code of standards," Koch said. "There have been occasions where we would disagree with the Guild about letter of the law versus intent of the law. I think those moments have frustrated the Guild and led to this move back in February."
The Guild's outlining of reasons for leaving the alliance comes just days after jockeys delayed the start of the May 12 Belmont Park card 37 minutes. Guild members spoke with NYRA's president and CEO 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.
Issues of concern in New York, and elsewhere, include the scale of weights and a proper concussion protocol.
The Guild pushed for a model rule that's now in place, which requires tracks to have paramedics in place, as opposed to emergency medical technicians. Paramedics have more training than EMTs and are able to perform more on-site, life-saving procedures.
In March the Guild said that Parx Racing—which is not accredited—did not meet industry standards in terms of the medical personnel it had in place when veteran jockey Jose Luis Flores was involved in a March 19 fall there that claimed his life. The Guild said the track did not have paramedics in place at the time of the accident; Parx executives declined to comment March 26 on the medical staff in place.
Beyond Parx, Pennsylvania has not adopted the industry standard—its model rule—that calls for two paramedics to be at the track during racing and one during training. The rule is specific in calling for paramedics to be in place. An April review by the Guild revealed that a number of states do not have this model rule in place and a number of tracks are not meeting the standard.
"NTRA's response regarding the lack of paramedics as required in the NTRA Code of Standards is unacceptable," Meyocks said in the letter. "EMTs are not the equivalent of certified paramedics. The ARCI Model Rule, which is a requirement in the NTRA Code of Standards, states that the track SHALL have at least one (1) paramedic in the morning and two (2) paramedics during racing hours. The word 'shall' means that it is an absolute requirement, with no exceptions, as the ability of paramedics to respond to a racing accident can mean the difference between life and death for a jockey. We are dismayed to learn that this standard, and possibly others, is being treated merely as a suggestion and has not been required at racetracks. To our knowledge, at least one major racing venue and one other racetrack, have not been in compliance with the requirement of the paramedics."
Koch said the majority of accredited tracks have the paramedic standard in place and said some that do not are meeting the same standards even if the language of their policies differ from the model rule.
"Overwhelmingly the accredited racetracks meet those criteria exactly. There are some situations where the local circumstances insist on something else, and we have to compare that to what we want to achieve," Koch said. "The code of standards is careful to discuss that it is not a one-size-fits-all document. We have to have accommodations for local circumstances.
"Having said that, the one paramedic in the morning and two in the afternoon is adhered to by a majority of accredited racetracks."
Koch said the alliance has not always agreed with the Guild's assessment of which tracks are in compliance.
The Guild also has been frustrated with the lack of participation in the Jockey Health Information System, which aims to collect medical data on riders so that if an emergency situation occurs, medical personnel will have information available on past injuries, allergies, and other medical conditions.
"The intent of the JHIS was to assure that racetracks and medical personnel have the most up-to-date medical information on each participating jockey," Meyocks said in the letter. "The purpose of the standard is to save lives as well as minimize the liabilities for the racetracks. In the event a jockey is unconscious, the medical providers are able to determine any pre-existing conditions and known allergies, i.e. such as a jockey who is allergic to morphine. In fact, the JHIS has been used by medical providers to do precisely this for jockeys who were unable to communicate at the time of the injury and treatment. To not require associations to adhere to the NTRA Code of Standard regarding the JHIS, which is similar to other sports, further demonstrates the total lack of concern for jockeys' well-being.
"Furthermore, no effort has been made to improve, let alone encourage implementation of, standards set forth by the Medical Care Recommendations of Jockeys' Guild Inc. and the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance Medical Director Committee. There have been minimal efforts, at best, to assure that these standards are actually in place, and at this point, these standards are woefully outdated in comparison to the medical standards of other racing countries as well as other sports here in the United States."
The Guild said it's disappointed that a suggestion made by the NTRA last fall, to establish a sub-committee to review the standards regarding human athletes, has yet to come to fruition.
"The NTRA has presented the accreditation of racetracks as the 'gold standard' in safety and the industry and the public are being led to believe that these standards are being adhered to 100%, when in reality, they are not," Meyocks said in the letter. "While we fully support efforts for the well-being of equine athletes, again, the concerns for human athletes have been disregarded. If the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance is not willing to fully adhere to the standards regarding the human athletes, we request that any and all standards pertaining to jockeys be removed from the Code of Standards."
Koch said he hopes the Guild will reconsider its decision to leave the alliance.
"The Guild action with that letter took us by surprise. We are happy to work with the Guild. We would prefer that the Guild engage with the Alliance and participate with us as we try to do positive things for the industry. It is unfortunate that they would choose to disengage in order to execute what they see as their best interest in an outside contract dispute," Koch said. "We remain eager to engage with the Jockeys' Guild and we did continue to invite them to our advisory board meetings, which they declined."
Eric Mitchell contributed to this story.