Churchill jockeys walk over insurance

Nov 9, 2004 7:42 AM

Failure to fund insurance protection to a level that has been deemed adequate has resulted in a major confrontation between jockeys and the operators of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., a property owned by Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN).

Jockeys concerned that a $100,000 policy is insufficient to protect a rider from a catastrophic injury had banded together with the announcement that they will not accept mounts beginning Nov. 10 and continuing through the remainder of the season that ends on Nov. 27.

Following the announcement of their decision, management had security personnel escort the riders off the premises.

Refusing to ride were: Rafael Bejarano, Robby Albarado, Mark Guidry, Calvin Borel, Willie Martinez and Craig Perret.

Among the riders who said they would continue to accept mounts were: Pat Day, Brice Blanc, Larry Melancon and Eddie Martin, Jr.

For many years, the Jockeys Guild had a contract with the Thoroughbred Racing Association that provided insurance coverage of up to $1 million per victim of a riding accident. That ended when the industry established the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Jockeys Guild was split by internal strife and reorganized.

A handful of states provide workmen’s compensation protection for jockeys but the majority of racetracks consider the riders to be independent contractors and limit their liability.

The issue received national publicity just prior to the Breeders’ Cup races when Hall of Fame Jockey Gary Stevens said he would refuse to ride at Lone Star Park in Texas because of its limited insurance coverage. He pointed to an accident in West Virginia where the rider was paralyzed in a fall during a race and the track’s insurance only covered $100,000 of his expenses while that number grew toward $500,000.

Speaking for Churchill Downs, Steve Sexton, president, said, "We believe the concern expressed by the jockeys over insurance coverage is a legitimate issue, but we do not agree with their approach to addressing that concern." He added, "Jockeys are independent contractors and are not employees of Churchill Downs or any other racetrack. Independent contractors in all other phases of the economy must accept the cost of their insurance coverage."

California addressed the issue two years ago and placed all jockeys and other racing personnel under its state workmen’s compensation insurance coverage.