From: The Jockeys’ Guild, Lexington, KY May 14, 2018.

On Saturday, May 12th, the entire jockey colony at Belmont Park, including Jockeys’ Guild Chairman John Velazquez, as well as Guild Senate members who regularly ride at NYRA tracks, Javier Castellano, Jose L. Ortiz, Irad Ortiz, Jr., and Mike Luzzi met with members of NYRA management, CEO and President Christopher Kay and Vice President of Racing Martin Panza.   When the NYRA Jockey Colony approached NYRA Management for a meeting on Saturday, there was never any intent to harm the owners, trainers, betting public and fans, nor was there ever any intention by the Jockeys to cancel races.  The Guild is an organization that exists for jockeys and is run by jockeys, including present and future Hall of Fame riders at NYRA, and these riders have every right to speak on behalf of the Guild as well as the NYRA jockey colony.

It is not unusual for members of any jockey colony to call a meeting or have discussions with management to voice safety and other concerns.  Many of the issues that were brought before management on Saturday are issues that have been brought to their attention on numerous occasions over the past year, with no resolution.  Several of which include the safety concerns that the Guild has been attempting to bring to the industry’s attention for many years as addressed in a social media post on March 27, 2018.

Although the discussion included concerns regarding the lack of agreement between the Guild and NYRA Management under Industry Partner Agreement, which has been in negotiations since the fall of 2017, it was not the only focus.  Many of the other issues discussed on Saturday are critically important to the health and safety of all jockeys and are issues that have not previously been included in the Agreement between the Jockeys’ Guild and NYRA or any other racetrack.

For more than a year, the Jockeys’ Guild and the riders have talked with NYRA management concerning revising the scale of weights to a minimum of 118 lbs.  A jockey’s published weight includes boots, pants, a light saddle, girth and silks, which typically total 3 to 3-1/2 pounds. With that said, a jockey would have to weigh between 114 and 115 lbs. stripped. In order to make the current weights being used, jockeys are endangering their health, by sitting in the hot box, using extreme dieting, or alternative measures, to lose 4 to 5 pounds each racing day.   In turn, jockeys can suffer severe dehydration and other health issues, which is not in the best interest of the owners, trainers, and betting public.  The scale of 118 lbs. that is being discussed is much lower than other major racing countries.

The field size on the turf courses at Belmont and Aqueduct has been another area of concern that the NYRA Jockey Colony has brought to the attention of NYRA Management over the past couple of years.  Riders are concerned for their safety and their horse’s safety because of the configuration of the turf course in races of certain distances.   In addition to the dangers, due to the field size, it potentially impacts the outcome of the races, which is not fair to owners, trainers, and the betting public.  However, Management has continued to write races with these field sizes.

One of the greatest areas of concern facing all jockeys throughout the country, including those at NYRA, is concussions and the lack of protocols and return to ride guidelines.  Racing still remains one of the only sports, professional or amateur, in the country that does not have some sort of standard in place with regards to concussions.  Additionally, the United States is one of the only major racing countries that do not have such standards.  After longtime NYRA Jockey Ramon Dominguez suffered a career ending head injury, Dr. Kenneth Perrine, Ph.D., of New York Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell Medical Center spoke at the 2014 Jockeys’ Guild Annual Assembly and said, “[J]unior high school soccer girls have more in place for looking at, managing, and treating concussions.”   This is an area that the Guild has been working to address for several years.  Most recently, the ARCI adopted a Model Rule regarding racetracks and concussions.  The Guild, in collaboration with the University of Kentucky, MedStar, and New York Institute of Technology, has created “Concussion Management and Return to Ride Guidelines”, which were approved and supported by the Jockeys’ Guild Board.  However, after several discussions, NYRA Management has stated it is not willing to pay to implement such protocols and is not willing to assume the liability of making a determination if a jockey is fit to ride after experiencing a fall that could potentially have caused the jockey to suffer a concussion or head injury.   They have stated that it is up to the individual jockey to make that decision.  However, many times, jockeys who have sustained a concussion are unaware of the severity of their injuries.  This is a major area of concern as a jockey who is potentially unfit to ride, but is allowed to do so, is not only a danger to him or herself, but also the other jockeys and horses in the race.

Unfortunately, another NYRA jockey suffered a concussion on Saturday morning during training hours.

As such, although not directly discussed on Saturday with NYRA Management, there is concern as to whether there was adequate staffing to handle such incidents.  One of the greatest areas of concern for the Guild is the assurance that racetracks have proper medical personnel, including having paramedics on the racetrack, both during training and racing hours.  Since NYRA was initially accredited by the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, the Guild was led to believe that NYRA had provided a properly equipped to transport ambulance, “staffed with at least one certified paramedic during training and two certified paramedics during racing hours.”  However, in October of 2017, after legislation was adopted in New York requiring paramedics, it was brought to the attention of the Guild and the NYRA Jockey Colony that this was not in fact the case, even though NYRA had been accredited several times by the NTRA.  Not only has this caused distrust with NYRA, it also led to additional questions regarding the validity of the NTRA Accreditation process, as outlined in the attached letter to Alex Waldrop, President and CEO of NTRA, on February 6, 2018.  Having paramedics is not only important for the welfare of jockeys but all racetrack personnel including exercise riders, horsemen, etc.

Beginning in the fall of 2017, the NYRA Jockey Colony approached NYRA Management about the lack of cleanliness in the Jockeys’ Quarters at Aqueduct.  Specifically, their concerns were lack of hot water, mold in the showers, and a horrendous stench in the steam room.  The mold and the smell were addressed in a reasonable timeframe.  When the issue regarding the lack of hot water was brought to the attention of NYRA Management, the Guild was advised that it would be a period of time before this was corrected.  However, six months later, there is still not any hot water.  Regardless, all aspects of the Aqueduct Jockeys’ Quarters need to be renovated.

In addition to the safety and welfare concerns, other issues that the NYRA Jockey Colony has previously approached NYRA Management about includes the use of funds from the NYRA Purse Account to pay for bonus programs and the refusal to assist with contributions from the NYRA Jockeys to a retirement account.

Guild and its representatives had a productive meeting with NYTHA representatives, addressing the bonus programs, along with other matters.

In the summer of 2017, the Guild established a retirement account in which its members could contribute through the horsemen’s bookkeeper.  During the Saratoga Meet, many of the NYRA Jockey Colony members gave authorization to NYRA to deduct a portion of what the jockey earns and submit it to the administrator of the retirement account.  However, although the Guild paid for the software updates, NYRA Management has continued to refuse to implement the deductions.

In conjunction with its disregard of the concerns of the NYRA Jockey Colony, NYRA Management has continued to show a total disrespect for the members of the colony who regularly ride in New York.  Most recently, a text was sent last week to all NYTHA Horsemen promoting two individual, out of town jockeys who were coming to ride at Belmont Park on Saturday, advising the horsemen that these individuals would be available for mounts.  This is not a standard practice and was very troubling to the NYRA Jockey Colony, their agents, and other jockeys who came in to ride that day.

The Industry Partner Agreement between the Guild and NYRA, which was referred to by the NYRA Jockey Colony and NYRA Management in statements issued after the delay of racing Saturday, expired on December 31, 2017.  Although an agreement has not been reached, NYRA has continued to make payments.  However, the lack of an agreement has been troublesome to the NYRA Jockey Colony.  The majority of racetracks throughout the country have continued to contribute to the Guild under such Industry Partner Agreements, which are similar to those dating back to 1968.  The Guild has used funds received from the Industry Partner Agreements to provide temporary disability benefits, life and accidental death and dismemberment polices, and offset the out of pocket expenses for health and disability coverage for qualifying active and disabled jockeys.   During the ongoing negotiations, there have been several significant issues that have yet to be resolved.

In response to comments made by NYRA Management to the press, the Guild’s Counsel had sent follow up communication with a redrafted proposal to NYRA’s Attorneys on March 12, 2018. On March 14, 2018, NYRA’s counsel responded in an email stating, “We had a conference call to further explore the issues, but nothing was agreed upon.  I will have to discuss these items with NYRA Management and get back to you.”    There had been no further communication from NYRA Counsel, until today, Monday, May 14th.  This was only subsequent to the meeting held on Saturday and the statements by Guild Representatives made to the press, as well as posts on social media indicating a release of the Guild’s position would be forthcoming.

In light of the continued frustration and lack of response by NYRA Management, the NYRA Jockey Colony strongly believes that many of the areas of concern need to be included in the Industry Partner Agreement with NYRA moving forward.  The intent behind all of the concerns is to protect both the equine and human athletes, as well as provide adequate benefits for the jockeys who are regularly risking their lives at NYRA.


For more information, contact Jockeys’ Guild 859-523-5625

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