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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Get Straight Talk:"Talkin' Horses"

The Guild's interim national manager, Darrell Haire, fielded some tough questions during an online "chat" on Blood Horse's popular "Talkin' Horses."

Darrell answered many of the questions that have been on people's minds regarding the fired management. He also talked about what led him to strongly speak out against Wayne Gertmenian's continued management of the Jockeys' Guild.

To follow is the "chat" as it originally appeared online on "Talkin' Horses" last month.

A message from Darrell Haire

Hi, everyone. I want to first begin with an apology to "Talkin' Horses." I was supposed to participate in the discussion at an earlier date, and I'm sorry for the delay. My schedule has been nonstop since the Guild's Senate members met on November 15th in their emergency meeting. Of course, that landmark meeting led to the firing of Wayne Gertmenian and his management team and to my appointment as Interim National Manager.

If you've kept up with the news stories, you know that the new leadership has its hands full. But the big difference now is that everyone is working together and everything is in the open. Almost on a daily basis, people across the nation are contacting me offering their encouragement and assistance. There's a lot that needs to be done, and we're working hard to accomplish it and remain positive. I'm ready to answer your questions, so let's get at it.


* * * * *

Louisville, KY:
Why didn't Chris McCarron come forward sooner than he did to let people, especially the jockeys, know that he had disassociated himself with Gertmenian?

Haire:
Chris would have to fully answer that question himself. However, I do know that he has huge regrets and said that bringing Gertmenian into the Guild is the biggest mistake of his life.

* * * * *

Lexington, KY:
Hi Darrell. You worked for the Guild under Giovanni, then under Gertmenian. You remain with the organization today. Therefore, I am to assume that the jockeys like and respect you. What process will you use to find the new chief executive? And will the Guild offices ever move back to Lexington? Thanks and I wish you the best of luck.

Haire:
I think that most jockeys know my heart has always been with them and addressing their problems. Even during all of the controversy with Gertmenian, I tried taking care of the riders' problems and making them a priority and it wasn't easy.

Regarding the selection of a permanent chief executive, that process will be determined by the new Board of Directors when they're elected at the rescheduled Assembly.

As far as relocating, I'm sure that it will be discussed in the future when things stabilize more. California is very expensive and a change in location might make sense. That's one of those major issues where we need to hear what the membership wants.

* * * * *

Bethesda, MD:
Do you support the movement to raise the minimum age for jockeys to 18?

Haire:
It's the role of the Guild's Board to decide the official position for the organization, but I'd be glad to give you my personal opinion. I personally support raising the age to 18 for a number of reasons. Horseracing is such a tough business both mentally and physically. Young riders need to have at least a high school education or their GED so that they are better prepared to make business decisions. A younger rider should continue to be licensed at 16 as an exercise rider for morning workouts to gain needed valuable experience.

Another issue that's not talked about much is that young riders can make weight at age 16, but have trouble keeping the weight off at age 18 as they grow and develop. They begin abusing their bodies as they get older so they can keep riding, and it's extremely unhealthy and dangerous. It's unsafe for the young rider in a weakened state and for everyone who is out there competing with him, because their safety is at risk too.

* * * * *

Buffalo, NY:
Jockey weights have been a large issue in racing for a long time. What are the chances of weights rising significantly in the next few years?

Haire:
There have been more discussions about increasing weights in the last two years. One thing is for sure, it's important to the health and safety of jockeys, so we're certain to hear more about it in the near future.

* * * * *

Somewhere in CA:
Darrell, you are a hero among racing circles. I admire your courage and level headed demeanor in stormy times. Keep up the good work.

Haire:
I do appreciate the kind words, but I believe the real heroes in this industry are the disabled jockeys who were injured while race riding. They're followed by the active jockeys who risk their lives every day and every ride because of their love for the sport. I am honored to be able to work for them, and I am dedicated to doing a good job and being successful on their behalf.

* * * * *

Ithaca, NY:
Our Thoroughbreds are running shorter distances at faster speeds than they were 5080 years ago. They are carrying less weight, though, and hopefully that has been keeping them sounder. Do you think that raising the weight requirement for jockeys could really have a negative impact on the health of the horses?

Haire:
You state that rider's lower weights are keeping today's horses sounder, and I'm not finding that's the case at all. The facts don't support it. The number of horses breaking down has sharply increased in recent years, and it has nothing to do with jockey weight. People within the industry are beginning to study the entire issue and that's good for the future of the sport and the health and safety of the jockeys. A bigger problem than weights is excess medication and most important, inconsistent track surfaces. Those two factors are contributing to more breakdowns and more physical problems for the horse.

* * * * *

New York, NY:
Why should the membership of the guild entrust the future of the guild with you even on an interim basis, when you were part and party to the ouster of John Giovanni, and were one of Dr. G's insiders and strongest supporters. If you were so off in your judgment on those two occasions why should your judgment be trusted now?

Haire:
I'm glad you asked that question, because I know it's on the minds of some people. I want to make it clear… I had absolutely nothing to do with the ouster of John Giovanni. The day after he was terminated, I received a fax that I was one of the 16 being fired. I immediately packed up my family and left for a vacation. It was during my vacation that Johnny Beech tracked me down and said that the Guild's new management had hired him back and they wanted me to contact them as soon as possible. So as it turned out Johnny and I ended up being the only two that had worked for Giovanni that were hired back by the Guild.

Gertmenian deceived many people, and I was one of them. Looking back that may seem hard to believe, but it's the truth. There was a time that I thought he could really help the Jockeys' Guild. He was supposedly so experienced and so educated, and I thought surely I had to be wrong when I started having doubts about him.

After it started becoming clear to me that he was hurting the organization, I didn't know what to do, because there were many jockeys who still supported him. I also wanted to continue to help those jockeys who were depending on me on a daily basis. I was and still am getting phone call after phone call from jockeys all over the United States asking for help in solving their individual problems. I was also getting numerous calls during those times from people in the industry wanting my opinion about the basic issues of importance to the membership. Therefore, I decided to work quietly behind the scenes trying to accomplish things for the riders. It was extremely difficult because I had no support from Gertmenian or Albert Fiss.

I am dedicated to bringing back the pride and integrity for which the Guild was known. I'm being trusted to act on an interim basis as the national manager, and I'm giving the job absolutely my very best. And hopefully over time I'll be able earn the trust of any one who still has doubts about me.

* * * * *

Albany, NY:
Hi Darrell, Having followed the changes at the Guild over the last year or so, I am glad to see the majority of the membership take a stand. It shows their true character. At the same time that the Gertmenian era has unwound and states and tracks are wrestling with insurance issues, it was disappointing for me to see headlines being made in Kentucky for the millions of dollars put into breeder's awards. Clearly, the industry has to seek ways to renew itself and allow people to make a living, but at the same time the health and wellbeing of our riders is more important. It would have been nice if Kentucky took a leadership position and put some of the money going to breeder's incentives to jockey insurance. I realize the money for incentives is coming from taxes on stallion fees; but jockey insurance has to come from somewhere. I have not been pro Guild and Gertmenian's position, but the industry is sending the wrong message in ignoring real issues that need to be addressed: something needs to get accomplished on the health insurance front for our riders. How is the Guild going to take up this matter now? Are you going to reinstate the catastrophic health policy that had been allowed to lapse? Good luck with the guild. Tom

Haire:
There's actually a lot of current discussion about the insurance issue on a number of fronts. The Congressional subcommittee is ongoing, and there are several racing jurisdictions that are studying the issue as well. We will continue our lobbying efforts on all available fronts. The issue has the public's attention and we're not going to let it drop until a good solution is found for the jockeys.

* * * * *

Vancouver, BC:
Hello Mr. Haire, Good Luck with your upcoming task of stabilizing the Jockeys' Guild. I know Dr G has left the Guild in possible near ruins and a suggestion I have for you is to contact racetracks across North America about making a special charge on Jocks Mounts above and beyond what horseman/jockeys are already paying into. I would be fine with the fact if I had to pay an additional fee of say $5 per horse per race that would directly go to the Jocks Guild or even to a different policy that would help jocks if an injury occurs. I feel that the majority of owners would have no problem with doing that. It may take a little wrangling to work something out, but I think it would greatly help the jockeys' dire situation. Good Luck!

Haire:
Thanks for being sympathetic about the jockeys' current situation regarding insurance coverage. I strongly believe that the cost of on track insurance should absolutely not be tied to mount fees. I feel that payment for such coverage is the responsibility of the racetrack. Jockeys never paid for on track insurance before, and they're not going to start now. They don't make enough as it is.

* * * * *

Long Grove, IL:
Are there going to be any changes to the current heath insurance coverage?

Haire:
The Guild is concerned about achieving proper insurance coverage for its members, and there are basically three kinds that affect jockeys. One type is the traditional on track insurance that's been in effect for years. There's also the highly talked about "catastrophic" insurance which covers the most serious injuries incurred by jockeys while riding. And the third type is the jockeys' "family" insurance, which is just like the coverage your family might have. Like most businesses, insurance is a huge issue for us, but even more so because of the dangers of the sport. It is extremely complicated, and we're trying to come up with the best solutions for the jockeys.

* * * * *

Saratoga, NY:
Now that there has been what I call a takeover, will there be openings in the field for outsiders?

Haire:
You could call it a "takeover," but I think that a better way to describe what has happened is to say that the jockeys "took back" their organization. The changes resulted from a grassroots effort involving jockeys in colonies across the United States. Because they stood up for what was right, we have the opportunity for a new beginning. There's a lot of work to be done, and there should be more opportunities opening up for people to help.

* * * * *

Miami, FL:
The Guild is attempting to "reopen a positive dialogue between the Guild and the horse racing industry." How can the Guild attempt to rebuild externally when internally it hasn't attempted to "reopen a positive dialogue" with former members that the Guild, yourself included, treated horrendously or failed to remove employees and directors that staunchly supported Gertmenian?

Haire:
There's much that needs to be accomplished on all fronts. The Guild's interim leadership is aware of the need to rebuild relationships with former members and to strengthen relationships with present members as well. It's going to take some time, but hopefully you'll see some progress in the near future. The fact that the Guild is readily available and openly communicating with the news media is a start in rebuilding relationships.

* * * * *

Chicago, IL:
Why haven't the others who "served" under Gertmenian been removed from office as well, including jockeys at each track who've been representatives for their jockeys' colonies? In my opinion, there is nothing to gain, including trust from former Guild members, until a completely new management system is in order including a clean sweep of those hired or voted in during Gertmenian's time in office.

Haire:
It will be up to the membership to decide if there should be more changes in the people that represent them. The Guild's bylaws provide the means for making such changes. The system worked to remove Gertmenian, and I have faith that it will work again if that's what the membership wants.

* * * * *

Las Vegas, NV:
What has become of former Guild board president Dave Shephard? He apparently was not elected to the new board why?

Haire:
Members of the Guild's Senate decided during their emergency meeting to change the representation on the Board of Directors. David is presently continuing to serve in his elected position as one of the Guild's 27 senators.

* * * * *

Auburn, WA:
Any idea who will be the West Coast Guild rep?

Haire:
For the time being, I'm continuing to represent the West Coast in addition to serving as interim national manager. We're presently in a transitional period. You'll likely see adjustments in staff after our annual meeting.

* * * * *

Lexington, KY:
Do you think that the jockeys will ever get behind the Guild again or has Gertmenian ruined it forever?

Haire:
Most jockeys throughout the country are already supportive of the Guild and are stepping up to become more involved. We are working together through the current uncertain times to build a stronger organization for all jockeys. I believe in the Guild and what it stands for. If I had felt otherwise, I would have left a long time ago.

* * * * *

Weston, CT:
What do you think of the retirement of such great jockeys as Bailey and Stevens? How do you think it will affect the game?

Haire:
Both Jerry and Gary are incredibly talented jockeys and true legends. Their retirement will definitely create a void within the sport. It will be interesting to see which of the younger riders will emerge to take their places. It's the nature of the sport, and with change comes new opportunities for others.

* * * * *

Utica, NY:
Will the Guild be able to take control of the Disabled Jockeys Endowment Fund or is that a separate entity? I understand that the old regime still sit on the Board of Directors.

Haire:
The Endowment was established in 2001 as a separate entity. The Guild recently submitted several outstanding nominees to fill available positions on the Endowment's Board. One of those nominees was highly respected Laffit Pincay, and they ended up turning him down. In fact, not one of the Guild's nominees was elected, and it's making a lot of people wonder why. As to what might happen next, I'm not sure. I do know that the Guild's interim management is checking into possible legal options.

* * * * *

Bowmanville, Ontario:
I see you are part of a large Irish-Italian family; I hope you show more of that Irish humour. With so much controversy over the outgoing president, what do you think is the most important issue to regain the confidence of the Jockeys again?

Haire:
Humor and my faith keep me going during these challenging times. As for the most important issue facing the Guild, I believe it is communicating better with our members and others in the industry. It's important that we create an environment where all opinions are welcomed and respectfully heard and more people are positively involved. If we can accomplish that goal, then we will be more likely to come up with good solutions to our many problems.

* * * * *

Garland, TX:
Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems that a lot of near famous horses are retired early because of injury. Is it more because of track surfaces or the lure of money as sires?

Haire:
There are a number of factors at play here. Horses used to run until they were 6, 7 or 8 years old, and now they're typically stopping at 4. The purses are so big that horses are being pushed to run at a young age instead of progressing along more slowly and naturally. As a result, most of these horses don't last. Additionally, the inconsistent condition of track surfaces puts more stress on young horses and affects their overall soundness. Then there's what I think is the biggest factor the attraction of syndicating horses for breeding purposes. An early retirement eliminates the risk of racing injury and can possibly lead to a long and profitable career as a sire.

* * * * *

Cynthiana, KY:
What is the condition of our life insurance?

Haire:
Individual life insurance is in place for participating jockeys through Metropolitan. Benefits range up to $100,000. The amount depends on whether the jockey is active, retired, or permanently disabled.

* * * * *

Georgetown, KY:
An organization cannot function fully as a labor union unless there is collective bargaining that results in a signed contract between labor and management. Whether owners, trainers or the tracks should sit across the table from the Guild for negotiations has always been an explosive issue. Do you foresee a day when jockeys become employees of a particular track, where the composition of the jockey colony would remain unchanged for the duration of the meet in progress, and where owners who prefer a particular jockey would have no choice but to run their horse at the track where that jockey is based?

Haire:
Your guess is as good as mine regarding the possibility of such major changes in the future. All of my focus and energy is in the here and now, working on present problems needing solutions. We're undergoing lots of changes for sure, but I think what you're proposing is pretty extreme and unlikely.

* * * * *

Boulder, CO:
I have been following the issues with the Guild for the past few years. I would like to know if there has been some sort of apology issued to those (King, Colton, etc.) who had been trying to alert you and other members of the Guild that there were wrong doings going on? With all the information that has come out in the past two months it definitely looks like they were right in their accusations.

Haire:
The new Guild leadership is concerned about the people who have been hurt or affected by the past controversy. It is on our minds for sure. I'm certain you'll hear more about this in the future.

* * * * *

Saratoga, NY:
I wanted to ask if you feel confident in rebuilding the Guild with many of the same people on your board of directors that were there when Gertmenian was allowed to take advantage of these Jockeys.

Haire:
I have to feel that eventually all things will work out for the best. I know that many people have been deeply hurt by what has happened in the past. The bottom line is...we have a system of by-laws which can bring about change if that's what the membership wants.

* * * * *

Dallas, TX:
With all of the information that has come out in the past two months do you feel that those who tried to warn you and other members of the Guild about what was going on were right?

Haire:
Yes, they were right. Unfortunately, I did not fully understand what was happening at the time. There was so much that I didn't know and was misinformed about. I was out there doing my job, and was not a part of Gertmenian's "inner circle." And when he did tell me something, I would later learn that it was not true. It took some time to fully comprehend what he was doing.

* * * * *

Hollywood, FL:
Don't you feel that to regain the credibility of the Guild within the horse racing industry there should be a clean sweep of the senators, board members, and management team?

Haire:
I don't think there will be a clean sweep. There are some good and respected people that can continue to serve. Many people were deceived and manipulated by Gertmenian and Fiss. People are human and they make mistakes and learn from them.

* * * * *

New York, NY:
You said that while Gertmenian was in control you worked behind the scenes for the jockeys, could you tell me some of your accomplishments during this time?

Haire:
Thank you for asking. I could give you a long list. On a daily basis, I was handling the problems of individual jockeys from coast to coast. They knew they could rely on me to help as I always have done. I also participated in numerous racing commission meetings and served on panels on issues important to jockeys. I was often called upon to speak at conferences on various subjects. And I served on a number of boards.

* * * * *

Miami, FL:
When you were a jockey, what was one of your most memorable moments?

Haire:
Two come to mind. One was winning the Arkansas Derby aboard Temperance Hill in 1980, and the other memory was winning the Kentucky Derby Trial aboard Listcapade in 1982.

* * * * *

Marlton, NJ:
Do you believe the minimum weight assigned should increase and if so to what weight? I would be 100% sure that any minimum weight would cause some riders concern to lose pounds to make that weight. Do you believe there would be an entire new jockey colony if the weight were raised?

Haire:
I think the minimum weight should absolutely increase. The amount should be determined based on further study similar to what California is planning to do under legislation that was recently signed into law.

* * * * *

Grove City, OH:
Hey, When will there be a requirement that all racetracks have enough assistant starters for every horse in the race? Some tracks carry enough, but most don't.

Haire:
We've been addressing it. More racetracks are hiring additional assistant starters. It's safer for the jockey and fairer for the bettor if there's a person assigned to each jockey in the gate.

* * * * *

Philadelphia, PA:
When did you first start to have a mistrust of Dr. Gertmenian?

Haire:
I started having serious doubts some time ago. At first there were little doubts about the way he would do things that just didn't seem right. Then later his actions became even more questionable, and I shared my concerns to Board members at the time. However, nothing seemed to change because he was so convincing and so controlling. It was nearly impossible for me to do much about it, because I was on the road three weeks out of the month. That's the way I lived for the last three or more years.

* * * * *

In closing...
I want to close by thanking "Talkin' Horses" for the opportunity to participate in today's online conversation. I know there were questions that I didn't have time to answer. It would have taken a long time to properly respond to some of the more involved ones. I'll be looking for opportunities in the future to continue talking about the things that are people's minds and that are important to jockeys and the sport of horseracing.

Before I go, I'd like to announce the dates for the Jockeys' Guild's rescheduled Assembly. The new dates are February 27th and February 28th at the Solana Marriott in Dallas, Texas. This information will be released to the news media this afternoon. Look for more details soon. Thanks again...Darrell

* * * * *

MODERATOR: And we would once again like to thank Darrell for his time and his candor. Rarely do we have the opportunity to pose such tough questions and get straight answers, and Talkin' Horses truly appreciates the opportunity to put Darrell in touch with all of those who participated in this discussion.

PDJF

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