Lack of Support for Disabled Jockeys a PR Nightmare?

Jockeys' Guild officials suggested the inability of the industry to thus far sufficiently support the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund could turn into a public relations nightmare for horse racing.

The fund, inaugurated earlier this year with initial support from Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp., among others, currently stands at $488,000. The goal was to have $1.2 million in the fund--by June 15 of this year.

The fund was created in large part because the previous Guild regime discontinued the Disabled Jockeys' Fund. The Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund is separate from the Guild, though the Guild has three representatives on its board, along with three from racetracks, three from horsemen's groups, and one from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

Nancy LaSala, wife of Guild board member Jerry LaSala and a member of the fund board, said of the $488,000, 67% has come from tracks, 24% from fundraisers, 8% from fans and other patrons of the sport, and 1% from horsemen. The latter percentage generated the most concern during the Dec. 4 Guild assembly meeting in Las Vegas.

Guild attorney Tom Kennedy said if the situation doesn't change, there could be an industry scandal that draws more attention than the injury to Barbaro in this year's Preakness Stakes (gr. I). He called the lack of support for the fund from horsemen's groups "despicable."

When the fund was formed, there was division over whether contributions should be mandatory or voluntary. There even was a spreadsheet that outlined how much each party would pay, officials said.

"They didn't want to do anything because they didn't trust the Guild," Guild chairman John Velazquez said. "They have the power to see where the money is going and they're still not contributing whatsoever. We tried to do it by contract, but they didn't want (the contributions) to be mandatory.

"At the time, we had to do something. We knew this was going to happen."

Guild officials also indicated the lack of industry support for the fund could fuel the legislative fires in Washington, D.C., where several lawmakers have taken an active interest in the health and welfare of jockeys and backstretch workers.

"If there is a halt in payments to disabled (jockeys)--as painful as it will be--it could have an effect to focus the industry on the problem," Kennedy said.

Nancy LaSala said the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund has received support recently from entities such as Racing and Gaming Services, TVG, and Youbet.com, all of which operate account wagering services. She called on Guild members to talk to horsemen about the importance of contributing to the fund.

"You have the ability to talk to horsemen and racetracks, which is a big benefit," LaSala said. "I don't think at any one time, I'm able to forecast more than two months (of benefits). Jockeys need to be protected. I need the manpower you have to get the message out."

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