Riders Up...Date - by Terry Meyocks

The Jockeys’ Guild has made substantial progress in many areas over the past year.

Most importantly, the bankruptcy judge approved the Guild's plan to emerge from bankruptcy Dec. 3. The Guild has reached a consensual agreement with its unsecured creditors to pay off their claims. Through bankruptcy, the Guild was able to pay off its outstanding medical claims, its temporary disability payments, and to maintain the jockey savings accounts.

Because of the nature of their profession and injury histories, many jockeys have a difficult time getting insurance or finding affordable health care coverage. The Guild continues to analyze ways to incorporate a health and welfare reimbursement program into our member benefits.

The Guild continues to make strides in reestablishing itself as a credible and meaningful organization in the racing industry.

Recently, the New Jersey Racing Commission approved the Guild to serve as a representative of the jockeys for the New Jersey Jockeys Health and Welfare Trust. The newly established Trust will enable New Jersey riders to obtain health insurance.

We have been able to negotiate a meaningful increase in losing mount fees at a number of tracks including, just recently, those in New Jersey. In many cases this is the first real increase in decades. The Guild has worked with state racing commissions, owners, horsemen’s group, and racetracks to reach these agreements, and we continue to negotiate with many other jurisdictions.

This past spring, the Guild partnered with The Jockey Club and Keeneland to develop a secure, Internet-based program to document the medical histories of jockeys for use by emergency medical personnel. To date, participating tracks in the Jockey Health Information System include Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Meadowlands, Monmouth, Turfway, Laurel, Pimlico, Timonium, Sunland, Hawthorne, Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga, Hoosier, and Santa Anita.

Also encouraging is the fact that, with the help of Richard Santulli, NetJets, Bill Casner, and the jockeys riding in the Triple Crown races, $742,000 was raised for racing charities. The Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, The Jockey Club Foundation, Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, Anna House, and the Backstretch Employee Service Team benefited through a unique sponsorship throughout the Triple Crown series.

The Guild has been able to attain a significantly greater representation on the board of the Disabled Jockeys Endowment, which will result in improved oversight and control of the funds in that account.

We all know there are many issues facing the racing industry and a number of those are being tackled now by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance. The Alliance has asked the Guild to join its efforts, which we enthusiastically support.

The Guild is working with the The Jockey Club, NTRA, HBPA, ARCI, KTA, TOBA, AAEP, and TRA to assure a safe racing environment. Among the issues being addressed are: the setting of medical standards/ambulances at racetracks for the care of jockeys and backstretch personnel; improved standards for helmets and safety vests; mandatory race-day veterinary examinations of entered horses; comprehensive standards for jockey weigh-in and weigh-out procedures; gate-loading procedures; establishment of a scientifically based jockey scale of weights; establishment of a jockey nutrition program; participation of all racetracks in The Jockey Club-In Compass medical reports program; an approval system for jockeys racing in North America for the first time; restrictions on the entry of horses that have undergone shock wave therapy; and new standards for riding crops.

As an example, with the help of Dan Fick of The Jockey Club and owner and breeder Scoop Vessels, we sent jockey helmets now in use for testing to Bill Simpson, whose company, Impact Race Products, designs NASCAR safety equipment. During the past few years, the company has improved the helmets used by NASCAR drivers. Simpson’s testing revealed there needs to be improvement in the quality of helmets used by jockeys and exercise riders, and prototypes have already been designed.

The difficult work now being done will need the cooperation of all racing organizations. Hopefully, these changes will reduce the cost for on-track accident policies and lower the workmen’s compensation costs to horsemen.

I would like to thank the Guild members for the loyalty they have shown to the Guild during these trying times. Their support has been critical in moving the Guild forward.

Terry Meyocks is the national manager of the Jockeys’ Guild.

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