Illinois Racing Board Hears Jockeys' Concerns

The Jockeys' Guild got a lot of sympathy but no immediate action from the Illinois Racing Board Tuesday on the issues of medical insurance and the scale of weights.

Guild vice president Albert Fiss and national member representative Darrell Haire urged the board to adjust the scale of weights to let jockeys ride at 118 pounds, exclusive of equipment. They said riders currently are endangering their health trying to make weight and Fiss said racing secretaries are "being asked to be a medical doctor" in assigning weights.

"Eighty-five percent of riders are doing something to their body -- eating, the hot box, heaving -- something extreme (to make weight)," said Haire, a former jockey. "They're really hurting themselves. We'd like to see the scale of weights increased."

The Guild has made a similar pitch in California, Kentucky and Colorado but only Colorado has agreed to adjustments. Those modification will be testing during the upcoming racing season, Fiss said.

Board members, including chairman Lorna Propes, said they sympathize with the jockeys' plight but fear that increasing the scale of weights in Illinois would put the state at a disadvantage in the competition for horses. Propes suggested bringing the issue before the upcoming national racing commissioners meeting and volunteered to raise to topic at the Association of Racing Commissioners International board level.

On the issue of insurance, Arlington Park president Cliff Goodrich said tracks have offered to increase coverage for jockeys and exercise riders from $100,000 to $1 million while legislative modifications to the Workers Compensation laws are put in place to protect riders – but only if riders and horsemen agree to fund the increase.

He said Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Arlington, "feels a moral obligation to increase coverage...We're trying. But right now, they're looking our way. Unless we get some help, we won't go up to the $1 million."

Goodrich said Arlington currently pays $15 per ride for insurance and the higher coverage would cost $24. He said a proposal is on the table to split the higher cost $15 to the track, $5 to the horsemen and $4 to the jockey. But officials of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association said their board rejected that proposal unanimously for several reasons, including the potential for added liability exposure as a partial funder of the insurance.

Propes asked Goodrich if Arlington would reconsider its decision not to increase the track's share of funding. Goodrich said, "Anything is negotiable."

Even the $1 million in coverage, Propes said, "is nothing" in the event of a catastrophic injury. "If I had the power," she added, "I would simply order you (all parties) to sit down and negotiate this until it's settled."

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