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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Julia Brimo: I'm Coming Back To Win

Not that it hasn’t been a troubled trip.

"When I first started back at the hospital in Kentucky, I couldn't even sit up in bed," states Brimo.

Her sister, Alicia Brimo, recalls the moment. “They sat her up in bed with her legs dangling over the edge and Julia sitting upright. They held her up for three minutes and that was the point that was too much.”

“Alicia told me I was screaming ‘I need to lay down’,” interjects Brimo. “Now here at Lyndhurst, I’m like, ‘do it harder’.”

Jockey Julia Brimo is recovering at Toronto Rehab's Lyndhurst Centre


The Mississauga native has made significant steps in the six short weeks since the accident. Basically, she has had to learn how to walk all over again.

“At first I would take about five steps and my legs would shake and I’d have to sit down,” says Brimo. “They put a belt around me real tight and someone behind me would hold the belt and so if I go to fall they have me. I just kept on walking. I pushed myself a lot harder than they wanted me to.”

Brimo kept pushing and now she leads a daily post parade of inpatients.

“I inspired people here,” laughs Brimo. “I’m walking around every night and do laps around the ward and so many people now want to do it too. They’re going to their therapist saying they want to walk as well. I’m setting up my own walking or wheeling club. People come up to me and say, ‘I stood up today’.”

Just walking, though, is not nearly good enough for Brimo. Maintaining eye contact, the jock leans in and states sternly, “I’m coming back to ride. Definitely.”

*

Laughter resonates throughout the conversation as I sit at the Lyndhurst cafeteria with Julia, Alicia and Woodbine trainer Sean Hall reflecting on the fast start to Brimo’s career.

Brimo won a Sovereign Award in 2003 as Canada’s top apprentice. Fast, it seems, is the only way the bubbly brunette knows how to move.

“I spent about a day as a groom,” giggles Brimo. “I knew I only wanted to ride.”

As a youth, Brimo went to the races regularly with her grandfather Allan Silvera – part of Woodbine’s well-know racing family. It was the Silveras who gave the aspiring jock a chance.

“The first time I got on a horse was for Laurie Silvera and we went out to the track and up I went to work a horse. My ass would bounce up and down and I was hurting so bad,” laughs Brimo. “I was in the middle of the track on this big chestnut plodder horse and I had jockey Stanley Bethley go by me on the outside and he yelled, ‘you need to keep your ass up’!”

“That’s so Stanley,” exclaims Sean Hall. “Julia was my go to rider. In my opinion, if she had stuck it out, she would have made it at Woodbine as a journeyman. We won many races together.”

Julia (red hoodie) and Alicia pose in front of Woodbine's Get Well Card


Brimo would win 75 races in 2003 to clinch the Sovereign Award. However, after losing her apprentice weight allowance the good mounts began to dry up.

“You’re competing with everyone else who has more experience and you have to find ways to sell yourself,” declares Brimo.

And that’s where sister Alicia stepped in to help out as an agent.

“We did a lot of marketing,” grins Alicia. “Julia made cartoon air fresheners of herself, there were bottles of Julia Brimo hand sanitizer. Every month it was something different.”

Brimo would get a first winner on her sister’s books with a horse trained by Hall.

“In my opinion, Julia was a perfect rider,” states Hall. “She was someone I could trust with any horse and trust in a rider is very important for a trainer.

Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to keep the jockey at Woodbine. Looking to start over, Brimo made her way to the U.S. for a fresh start.

“I left Woodbine and went to Ocala,” says Brimo. “Then I went to Kentucky, Fair Grounds, Saratoga and at that time I was working on getting my Visa.”

Brimo was also working on getting fit and becoming physically stronger.

“What I did was I ran,” laughs Brimo. “I wanted to be so fit. I’m riding with some good riders and I wanted to make this work so I ran four or five miles a day. I worked horses in the morning and I was on the Equicizer every day. I just pushed because I really wanted it. Let me tell ya, Kentucky’s got some hills now. I was always running up some hill.”

The hard work paid off and renowned agent Doc Danner, who holds the books for Shaun Bridgmohan and once represented Pat Day, added Brimo to his roster.

Brimo began to pick up mounts at Turfway and was working hard at Keeneland when disaster struck in only her second mount of the meet.

The day of the accident is a blur for Brimo.

“I don’t remember anything from the time until they took out the life support,” says Brimo. “I remember the morning of the race I asked this rider if I could get a ride with him to Keeneland. Just before the race, I was already dressed and I’d forgotten my stick in his car. So I got his keys, went to the car and got my stick and came back out and that’s the last thing I remember. I woke up and they sat me up a bit and they took this big tube out of my mouth. When that tube came out I thought they were killing me.”

It was a frantic time for Brimo’s family.

“I found out the afternoon of the 30th,” recalls Alicia. “Suzanne (Brimo’s other sister) and I were calling everywhere trying to find out what happened. Suzanne and I drove down to Kentucky that night and I stayed with Julia until she came back to Canada.”

“Alicia took care of me from the beginning,” Brimo says fondly.

*

Anxious to demonstrate the depth of her recovery, Brimo leads us on a tour of the Lyndhurst facility. Perhaps it's second nature for a jockey to save ground, but Brimo is cutting corners as she accelerates past fellow patients who call out her name as she blows by them.

Our group struggles to keep pace in her wake.

Brimo enters her private room and proudly shows off the many photos on her wall. Pointing at a shot of a burly English bulldog, Brimo advises, “That’s Bodacious. He flew back to Canada with me on a private jet.”

On another wall hangs a placard signed by jockeys, trainers and assorted friends from Woodbine.

The list of visitors is a testament to Brimo’s popularity and engaging personality. “Robbie King, Ray Sabourin, Monique Dionne and Jason Portuondo have been by to visit,” smiles Brimo.

Her eyes light up and with a big grin she asks, “Do you know who came to see me last week…Edgar Prado!”

Alicia Brimo speaks fondly of the many well wishers who have stopped by to offer assistance. Among those is Matthew Straight, the brother of jockey Michael Straight who was left paralyzed following an August 26th spill at Arlington Park. “Matthew came out and introduced himself and said if we needed any help that we could talk to him. So that support has been amazing. Not just the publicity stuff, but the personal calls from people have been amazing.”

The hospital room with all of its cards and photos has become a place of inspiration for the recovering jock. Each day brings new challenges. Though Brimo’s legs are moving well, there is still stiffness in the shoulders and a lack of mobility in both hands.

“Once I was lying in bed moving my hand back and forth and in my head the hand was moving but it really wasn’t.” With a real wave of a hand, Brimo laughs, “It’s taken a lot of work to do this. This is all new.”

“I got to get these things working,” says Brimo gesturing with her hands. “This hand, I move very well but this one not so much. I keep telling them ‘come on guys, wake up, got to get going’.”

A self-starter, Brimo isn’t waiting for recovery to happen and instead is finding creative ways to re-train her body to move as it once could.

“Last night I dumped out a box of Hershey Kisses and put them back in the box one-by-one,” said Brimo. “I’ll unscrew nuts and bolts and put them back together. I stretch constantly. Everyone is saying that I’m so advanced but I’m so go go go and want to be ready for spring.”

Alicia Brimo is taking an active role in sister Julia's therapy


Brimo’s enthusiasm is palpable. The only scars she suffers from the accident are a pair of three and four inch marks on her neck from the spinal surgery. Mentally, it seems, the jockey is ready to get back on the horse.

*

The journey to recovery for Brimo begins at Toronto Rehab’s Lyndhurst facility where the jockey will be rooming until February. Each day, Brimo works with Sylvia Haycock, an Inpatient Occupational Therapist, to learn how to cope with her injuries.

“Working with Julia has been inspiring and different in that she has a lot of spontaneous motor recovery,” says Haycock. “Julia is very motivated and she had a pre-existing high level of fitness due to her ability to race horses so she was in shape as an athlete. Her body awareness is excellent and we’re progressing well in teaching and learning movement strategies and learning movements that she had before.”

“It’s a lot of work,” adds Brimo. “I work every day to move my fingers and my arms to get my brain to send the right signals.”

“It’s an incomplete injury,” continues Haycock. “We don’t know what part of the spinal cord was spared, we only know by her presentation. As a therapist, we augment whatever muscle movements we see and we also use the body alignment.”

Therapist Sylvyia Haycock works daily with Brimo

During an afternoon therapy session, Haycock puts Brimo through a variety of exercises and works to stretch out the finely toned muscles of a highly trained athlete to recover range of motion. A typical session starts with Brimo dipping her hands into a hot wax wrap which coats the jock’s fingers in molten wax heated up to 136 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat of the wax helps to loosen Brimo’s muscles as Haycock then massages manually on the digits of each hand to elicit a response.

“It’s hard to put someone on a curve as every injury is unique,” says Haycock. “But I would say she is doing very well considering her injury was on October 30th. She still has work ahead of her but she’s up for it daily, with exercises and therapy, and going for it way more than 100%. It’s an inspiration her will to recover.”

Realistically, there is no way to measure what recovery is possible.

“We check the range every day and re-assess her movement. We assess for changes in terms of new problems,” states Haycock. “We do as much as we can here implementing into a home program. Three months here is the start of recovery which will continue to improve for two to three more years.”

Haycock works on Brimo's range of motion


Brimo has been invited to take part in a Valentine’s Day event at Gulfstream Park in February and the irrepressible jock plans to be there even if she isn’t able to ride just yet.

She is working hard at her program and if full recovery is possible, considering her determination, it would be hard to imagine anyone more capable. To that end, Brimo speaks about inspiring others.

“The main thing I want to talk about is spinal cord injury and how if you’re positive and work hard you can overcome it and achieve your goals,” states Brimo. “It’s not the end of the world. I know it’s easy for people to get down but all I can think about is riding again.”

To do so, the 33-year-old is again working hard at regaining fitness. This time, the hills she climbs are the peaks and valleys of personal physical limitations rather than those covered in Kentucky bluegrass.

Brimo looks forward to getting back in the saddle


Undaunted, Brimo has visions of a brighter future.

“I picture a sunny day, as fit as I can be and I’m on the best horse in the race and I win,” laughs Brimo. “I’m coming back to win.”

*

The Julia Brimo Fund was established at Fifth Third Bank by friend Cindy Werner. Contributions can be made to the Fund by sending a check made out to the Julia Brimo Fund and sent to Cindy Werner at 1116 Flat Rock Road, Louisville, KY 40245

Facebook users can login and sign the Julia Brimo Get Well Card.

An updated version of this story will appear in the January edition of
Down The Stretchnewspaper.
Friday, December 18, 2009

Panama: Cradle of jockeys

But it was a little more than a year ago that Saez slept on a tack room floor on the backstretch of Presidente Remon racetrack in Panama City, a hopeful 16-year-old jockey about to graduate from riding school there. For two years, Saez, a kid from a remote jungle area, shared that small concrete floor with another classmate, not to mention a bevy of rats and cockroaches that also called the tack room home.

To graduate from the school, riding was the last step; first there was walking hots, and grooming, and mucking stalls, eight hours of laborious tasks a day, all for little pay. Up at four in the morning for training hours, classes in the afternoon, then four more hours at the barn. The hose Saez used to spray the horses doubled as his shower.

"It's a great sacrifice to live in those quarters," Saez says now, through an interpreter.

Saez dreamed of riding in the United States, even the Kentucky Derby, he would tell people, although his knowledge of American racing was confined to what he had seen simulcasted at Presidente Remon. His dream was not improbable. After all, his instructors at the riding school frequently reminded him and his classmates: Panam es la cuna de los mejores jinetes del mundo.

Panama is the cradle of the best jockeys in the world.

It's the school's slogan, and Saez often remembered those words. But it's more than inspirational fodder. His instructors are right. This postage stamp-sized country has been the most fertile patch for jockeys over five decades, much like the Dominican Republic has been for baseball players.

The school, which now carries the name of its most famous graduate, Laffit Pincay Jr., has been around in some form for about 50 years. So when Saez graduated last December, from a class of 14, he followed along a well-worn path. The hard part was finishing the demanding two-year program and getting to the United States. Riding here has seemed effortless.

:: PANAMA CONNECTIONS: Stats for a sampling of noteworthy jockeys (PDF)

Two weekends ago, he won four races Saturday and five Sunday, the latter from six mounts on an eight-race card. In September, he won four races on consecutive Saturdays, including his first stakes victory.

Trainers and horseplayers have been swept up by Saez's success. Even Chuck Streva, Calder's linemaker, said in October that he had started adjusting the morning line down a point or two on Saez's horses because of all the betting action they had been taking.

Marty Wolfson, one of the leading trainers in south Florida, quickly became one of Saez's prime backers. Their results together have been staggering: a .600 winning percentage, including four wins in a row to start their partnership.

"I've ridden the best bug boys that have come out of here," Wolfson said, naming Eddie Castro, Javier Castellano, Jose Valdivia, and Alex Solis, "and Luis has been as good as those guys as bugs."

Wolfson said he uses apprentices not for their weight allowances but because he takes pride in discovering talented riders. He calls Castro, also from Panama, his favorite; together they won the 2006 Breeders' Cup Mile with Miesque's Approval. Saez, he said, is right there with Castro, who won an Eclipse Award for outstanding apprentice jockey in 2003.

"He's got a knack for having horses relax, just like Eddie Castro did," Wolfson said. Asked what Saez can improve on as a jockey, he said, "Just his English."

Saez is not alone in the United States. From his class at the Pincay School, there are seven other apprentice riders here. Abel Lezcano arrived on the same flight as Saez, and he has climbed his way into the top five of the Calder standings. Ricardo Santana Jr., the leading apprentice in their class, had been riding in New York until an injury sidelined him last month. Jorge Gonzalez is riding at Zia Park. Four others - Olmedo Pitti, Abel Peralta, Angel Moreno, and Antonio Lopez - have either started their careers or will soon; they're in Florida making adjustments with Jose Corrales, an ex-Panamanian jockey.

This might be called an invasion if it didn't happen regularly. Some of the most accomplished young riders - Eddie Castro, Fernando Jara, Jose Lezcano, Gabriel Saez, and Elvis Trujillo - are products of the same system. Same as successful veterans such as Rene Douglas, Martin Pedroza, Alex Solis, and Cornelio Velasquez. Then there are the legends, the Hall of Famers: Pincay, Manny Ycaza, Braulio Baeza, Jorge Velasquez, and Jacinto Vasquez.

Riding on a barrel

The rise of Latin American jockeys can be traced back to 1946, when Angel Valenzuela, a 17-year-old youngster from a Mexican family of 22, came to this country to ride. He made it to Hollywood Park by 1952 and was joined there by his brother Ismael, also known as Milo. Milo Valenzuela became the better of the two, and in his Hall of Fame career he won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1958 and 1968.

The Valenzuelas were the first arrivals, but Manny Ycaza was the first to captivate railbirds. One of nine children of a Panama City bus driver, Ycaza began riding in Panama at age 14 and came here permanently in 1956. He was colorful, skilled, aggressive, and, at times, reckless. By 1967, he had already served more than two years (746 days) of suspensions given by stewards.

Heliodoro Gustines followed Ycaza, and he had an exceptional career, a master on the turf and regular rider of the champion Forego. Braulio Baeza, a son and grandson of jockeys, was a phenom in Panama City; in 1959 he won 309 races on 112 racing dates, and the following year signed a contract with owner Fred W. Hooper. Unlike Ycaza, Baeza was graceful, clean, and, in the post parade, striking for his erect seat. He rode 24 champions, including nine Hall of Fame horses. Jacinto Vasquez arrived next; known as the regular rider of Ruffian, he also won two Kentucky Derbies and rode 10 champions.

Laffit Pincay Jr.
Barbara D. Livingston
Laffit Pincay Jr. at the Breeders' Cup last month. He and other legends such as Manny Ycaza were the role models for a new generation of world-class riders to emerge from Panama.

Ycaza, Baeza, Gustines, and others mostly taught themselves through experience on the track, or their families and trainers they worked for. When Jorge Velasquez and Laffit Pincay Jr., also hungry, poor kids, arrived at Presidente Remon after Baeza had just left for the U.S., an old, former jockey named Bolivar Moreno had set up a school there. They wanted to be the next Ycaza or Baeza.

Moreno's early lessons were based on Eddie Arcaro's series on the Art of Race Riding, which had appeared in Sports Illustrated in 1957. He would have the kids sit on a barrel, and he would use rope to make stirrups and reins.

Velasquez said they picked up the basics on that barrel - how to keep low, how to hand-ride, how to hit a horse, how to come out of the gate. They would ride imaginary races, and, as Velasquez recalls, Moreno would instruct them: "We're going into the gate now. . . . It's going to be three quarters of a mile. . . . Now you're breaking out of there. . . . Rate the first part. . . . And sprint the last quarter."

Velasquez and Pincay apprenticed at the track, without pay; they walked hots, groomed and fed horses, mucked out stalls. Pincay used to cut grass and sell it to the stables for small change. They hustled for chances to gallop horses. "You learn everything from the beginning," Velasquez said.

They were hungry, Pincay said, in the literal sense and also for opportunities. "We started being very poor. It was a way out to get ahead. It was a way to get an opportunity. We were hungry. We tended to try harder."

Velasquez began riding in 1963, and he became a sensation, like Baeza had before him and Pincay would soon enough. Almost three years later, in August 1965, Ramon Navarro, a local trainer who had first tipped Hooper on Baeza, did the same for Velasquez. Navarro told the owner about Pincay a year later.

In 1967, Velasquez led all jockeys in wins and topped the money list two years later. In 1974 and '79 he rode Chris Evert and Davona Dale, respectively, to a sweep of the filly triple crown. He was the regular rider of Alydar, racing's most famous runner-up, and won the 1981 Derby and Preakness aboard Pleasant Colony.

As for Pincay, his career was nonpareil. More dedicated than any rider in history, Pincay retired at age 56, in April 2003, with his then-record 9,530 wins.

These were the jockeys - Ycaza, Gustines, Baeza, Vasquez, Velasquez, and Pincay - who for decades crowded out almost everyone else in the national standings and rode at the best racetracks and won the biggest races. Their collective success shaped a national reputation and drove new generations of hungry kids into the riding school at Presidente Remon.

The same formula

Jockey schools are now commonplace in countries with racing. France, for instance, has an exceptional one, and, domestically, Chris McCarron opened the North American Racing Academy in Lexington, Ky., three years ago, something the Hall of Fame jockey considered woefully missing.

Little has changed in five decades in Panama. Pincay and Luis Saez experienced much the same things. Then, as now, the formula remains the same.

The school is more formalized than it was in Pincay and Velasquez's day; students are still matched with trainers to apprentice for, but in between morning and afternoon sessions at the barn they take basic courses such as science, math, and geography, in a building adjacent to Presidente Remon. English classes were added this year. One horse owner recently donated a computer to the school, which was hailed as a great accomplishment.

About two dozen students enroll in a class. They must weigh a minimum of 104 pounds, show a certificate of good health, be between ages 14 and 22, and have completed a certain level of school. The Ministry of Education oversees the school. Knowledgeable of the tradition, a few aspiring jockeys from overseas have recently joined, including a young woman from Slovakia who recently graduated. The program lasts about 18 consecutive months, and graduation always arrives in early December.

Until last year students still learned the basics of riding on a barrel, just as Bolivar Moreno had taught. Pincay ended that 50-year practice after he donated two mechanical horses known as Equicizers. Concepci n Barr a, an ex-Panamanian jockey who had a successful career in Mexico, is one of two current riding instructors.

What's the same is the students are poor and consider the school their only way out. Some arrive at Presidente Remon from the countryside or jungle; Luis Saez, Gabriel Saez (they are distant cousins), and Eddie Castro grew up without electricity or hot water on subsistence farms in the far-flung region of Darien. They learned horsemanship at a young age, riding cows and ponies.

horse name
Barbara D. Livingston
Gabriel Saez has ridden such top horses as Friesan Fire. Only nine students from his original class of 30 graduated from the Pincay School in 2005 because of the backbreaking work.

At Presidente Remon, they are still paid little for backbreaking work; only by their second year can they earn the opportunity to get on a horse. Usually, half or more of a class drops out before graduation.

Gabriel Saez, 21, who has ridden horses such as champion Proud Spell, Eight Belles, and Friesan Fire, said nine students from his original class of 30 graduated in 2005.

"It's too hard, man," said Saez, who was Panama's leading apprentice before leaving in 2006. "You have to work so hard to get the opportunity to get on a horse."

Luis Saez said he earned $50 a week to take care of seven horses every day. He ate all his meals, which cost $3 a day, at the track kitchen. Every student has to pay $25 a month in tuition, leaving little income. Sometimes Saez helped the blacksmith to pick up a few dollars. After everything, he said, "I loved working with animals."

After graduation the new apprentices hustle for mounts. Racing takes place three days a week, and jockeys might expect to win a hundred dollars for each win. The best ones try to leave immediately.

"I hate to say it, but there's nothing over there," Gabriel Saez said. "You work for pennies over there."

Luis Saez saved all the money he earned from 37 wins, though still less than the five-thousand dollars, plus immigration papers, required for an American work visa. Jaime Gooding, his principal trainer, and Gooding's friend, Michael De Leo, a 60-year-old American immigration attorney whose practice in Panama City has assisted jockeys, paid for and oversaw Saez's application and then paired him with another friend in Florida, agent Peter Wright.

De Leo, who once owned horses in south Florida, handled the paperwork for several other apprentices from Saez's class. He said his practice earlier this month signed four apprentices from the new class. Along with Gooding and Jose Corrales, they recently set up a management company in Florida that will ease the transition of the young jockeys they place in the United States - help with tax returns, immigration counseling, expense reports, and, in some cases, more training on a horse.

De Leo has streamlined a process that for five decades relied on a tight-knit but informal network of trainers, owners, agents, and jockeys. New graduates of the Pincay School, of which there were 16 in December, including two girls, should find it easier to emigrate to the United States; next up, De Leo said, might be Eddie Castro's younger brother, Elvis Trujillo's cousin, and Martin Pedroza's nephew.

For now, they are all watching Saez. For all his success, his transition has not been altogether smooth. He does not speak English. He is often homesick; Wright, his agent, placed him on his cell phone plan, and in his first month he racked up a $1,700 bill calling Panama. Saez wants his younger brothers - 10 and 12 - to follow in his footsteps.

Still, he has found a few reminders of home. The first thing he asked for when he arrived was a barrel, something close to the one he used in riding school. Wright found a 50-gallon hard plastic blue one, something that might hold industrial chemicals.

After the races, Saez sits on top and imagines a race, first sitting still, strengthening his legs, then using reins and a whip. He has to do it alone, he said, too embarrassed for anyone else to watch.  Ryan Goldberg/Daily Racing Form

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Joel Rosario Named Jockey of the Week

 Rosario won 12 races overall during the time period, half of them coming on the same card.

 

The 21-year-old native of the Dominican Republic tied Racing Hall of Fame jockeys Bill

Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay Jr., and Kent Desormeaux for most wins on a single card at

Hollywood Park. He won the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth races to share

the record.

 

“I always like my horses,” Rosario said. “You ride your horses. I don’t care if they are 99-

to-1 or even money, we have a chance to win.” Rosario also won the Ifyoucouldseemenow Stakes aboard She’s Funomenal last week. Rosario has won 279 races this year through Tuesday. His most lucrative win of 2009 came aboard Dancing in Silks in the $2-million Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) on November 7 at the

Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita Park. He also captured the 2009 springsummer meet at Hollywood as well as the Del Mar meet this year.
 

“Some people have compared him to a young Laffit Pincay,” said

Rosario’s agent, Vic Stauffer, “and from the three-sixteenths pole

to the wire, he can make a difference with a horse.”
Thoroughbred Times TODAY
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sponsor deals not smooth as silks

Jockey Jose Santos
Sporting an Anheuser-Busch logo on his pants, Jose Santos rode Funny Cide in the 2003 Belmont Stakes.
It happened not so long ago, before the Belmont Stakes of 2003, a groundbreaking moment ironic in its lateness -- especially considering the evolution of the times. Executives with Visa, then-sponsor of the Triple Crown, called the unannounced move "ambush marketing," expressing extreme displeasure at sharing valuable airtime with Wrangler, the logo worn by Stevens and ultimate winner Bailey on Empire Maker, and Anheuser-Busch, worn by third-place finisher Santos aboard Funny Cide.

Earlier in the year, several riders had been fined $500 each for simply wearing the Jockeys' Guild logo, a 3x5 patch, hand-sewn onto the pants leg of their right thigh above the knee. By 2004 they were threatening a boycott of the Kentucky Derby as the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority attempted to enforce a rule that banned advertising "not keeping in the traditions of the turf." A lawsuit ensued in the aftermath, with Bailey, Santos, eventual Jockeys' Guild chairman John Velazquez and others acting as plaintiffs in the case. And although the riders ultimately won the right to wear advertising based upon first-amendment rights, the battle over sponsorships continues to this day.

***

When Velazquez enters the paddock at a New York track on any given afternoon, his white pants gleam bright and spotless and are marked only by a tastefully-embroidered "Johnny V" on the waistband at the base of his spine. Unlike other athletes whose corporate sponsorships may be arranged on a yearly or seasonal basis -- think Tiger Woods and Nike, DuPont and Jeff Gordon -- it is impossible for Velazquez, one of the nation's leading riders, to make a similar deal. New York State Racing and Wagering Board Rule 4041.6, Wearing of advertising or promotional material, section b, requires a sign-off from every owner or authorized agent of every horse in every race he rides. Last year, Velazquez rode 1,180 starters.

"If I want to do a yearlong deal with Pepsi and Johnny Velazquez, I can't," said Kelly Wietsma, president of the equine public relations firm Equisponse. Wietsma has been at the forefront of jockey advertising deals since she facilitated the 2003 agreements for Bailey, Stevens, and Santos.

"Lack of uniformity is why corporate sponsorships have never taken off for jockeys like they have for other athletes," she said.

But owner representatives like Dan Metzger and Tom Ludt of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) said it is impossible for jockey sponsorships to mirror those in other sports, since the jockeys form but one section of a multi-faceted racing team.

"In golfing, Phil Mickelson is 100 percent of the product out there on the green," Metzger, TOBA president, explained. "In racing, the jockey has an important role to be sure, but he joins the horse."

Metzger has a point. The horse is financed by an owner, trained by a trainer, cared for by a groom, exercised by an exercise rider -- all parts of the team on the route to the winner's circle.

"It's more appropriate to compare our hoped-for model to NASCAR," Metzger said, "where Jeff Gordon's agreement is done between car driver and sponsor with a secondary agreement between the sponsor and the owner of the car."

The words "hoped-for" are key in an issue further clouded by the fact that, since horse racing has no national uniformity or governing body, rules vary from state-to-state. In California, for instance, jockeys do not have to obtain permission from owners prior to wearing advertising. They simply submit the advertising for review to stewards at the racetrack where it will be worn, and, meeting certain size and placement guidelines as stated in California Horse Racing Rule No. 1691 (section d), they're good to go.

"We've had no problem here in California at all," said Jockeys' Guild regional representative Darryl Haire. "The rule has been that way for four or five years now, and it hasn't been an issue."

According to Haire, jockeys Tyler Baze, Aaron Gryder, Alex Solis and Corey Nakatani, among others, all arranged sponsorship deals with various casinos, hotels, and Internet-based companies. Baze's agent, Ronnie Ebanks, said his rider has had a deal with MagicJack.com for about two years and continues to wear advertising for the Internet-based phone company to this day.

Laws are similar in Florida and Maryland, but it's another story in Kentucky, where lengthy guidelines (section 15, Advertising, of 810 KAR1:009, Jockeys and apprentices) require the approval of the managing owner of the horse, or the owner's duly authorized agent, along with the approval of the stewards and the licensed racing association or racetrack.

***

Calvin Borel and Mine That Bird
During the Triple Crown races of the past two years, jockeys like Calvin Borel were allowed to wear silks emblazoned with the NetJets logo.
Because of this disparity between states, major corporate sponsorship deals for jockeys have come to center around three key events -- the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont -- rather than difficult-to-maneuver yearlong deals. As one owner said, "Let's face it, corporations aren't really interested in buying ads on a Tuesday at Philadelphia Park."

These Triple Crown races have been the center of intense controversy over jockey advertising deals -- especially those related to the Derby -- since Bailey made the effort to carry the Wrangler sponsorship over to 2004. According to the retired Hall of Fame rider, the attempt resulted in such a battle with industry organizations that he never pursued sponsorship opportunities again.

"It frustrated me," Bailey said. "I thought whatever avenue it took to bring Madison Avenue into our game would be good. Most jockeys were open to the idea of revenue sharing, designating some of the revenue for the owners or trainers or grooms or exercise riders or whatever, but instead of welcoming the concept and saying, 'How can we perpetuate this or share it and make it grow?' it became such a big fight. It wasn't worth it."

"The lack of trust (between industry groups) ... is astounding," said Terry Meyocks, national manager of the Jockeys' Guild. "It is a major problem in our industry and a reason why the sport faces so many challenges ... consequently, coordinated initiatives fall by the wayside, the entire sport suffers, and those who do try to make a difference give up."

The uproar finally seemed to be subsiding in the past two years, when all of the riders in the 2008-2009 Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stake were permitted to wear advertisements for the aviation company NetJets. For both years, three separate deals were struck, race-by-race, between individual riders and owners with the Guild's facilitation. This year the Derby sponsorship netted $125,000 to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys' Fund, $75,000 to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and $150,000 to the jockeys (about $7,900 per rider).

The owners did not receive any of the advertising revenues, and that fact did not slip by unnoticed. David Sweitzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, told Ron Mitchell of The Blood-Horse that there was some confusion on the part of owners as to where money from the 2009 deal was going, "with many left with the understanding that all of the advertising revenue was going to charitable purposes."

According to Sweitzer, Mitchell wrote on Dec. 2, some owners believed that 100 percent of the money was going to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund -- and "when they learned that was not the case, it was too late to do anything about it."

Meyocks, however, is quick to counter claims that the deals were not transparent. He said a complete breakdown of fund distribution was made available to any owner who requested one, and many owners did not sign off on the deals without first looking at the breakdown.

"It has been insinuated that the Jockeys' Guild has been deceitful with regard to the disposition of the paid endorsements," Meyocks said. "This is simply not true ... further, all checks were distributed by NetJets to both the riders and the charities. The Jockeys' Guild never received any money to distribute and never received any compensation to offset the costs incurred in spearheading the drive."

Owners who did not think to ask for the figures may have been understandably distracted at the time, Metzger said. Permission slips for the 2009 Kentucky Derby, for example, were recruited during the week of the race -- a hectic time for all parties involved.

Horses leave the gates during the 2008 Preakness Stakes.
Jockeys and owners may need to come to an agreement before sponsorships become commonplace.
"In the case of the Kentucky Derby owners, for the most part, you're thinking about your horse and getting into one of the 20 stalls in the starting gate and there's a lot on your mind in the days leading up to that race," Metzger remarked. "That's why we're hoping to work with the jockeys well in advance to come to an agreement supported by the majority of the owners."

***

The idea of sponsoring the field -- that instead of going out to seek a patchwork of endorsements on their own, all riders in the Triple Crown races would wear advertisements for the same company -- seems to be catching on. But Tom Ludt, president of Vinery Stables, says owners should definitely get a cut of any such deals made in 2010 and beyond, and he's not the only one thinking that way. Ludt is a board member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and TOBA and has been involved with talks with the Guild to facilitate a model for revenue sharing from jockey advertising worn during the Triple Crown.

While Ludt sees the jockeys as vital players, he also wants to make sure that all owners -- from large racing stables to smaller operations -- are represented on the industry's biggest days.

"The jockeys are saying 'We want to make money off of this,' well, so do the owners," he said. "We're the ones putting money into this game. It's not cheap; it's expensive. The situation is complicated and the more you dig the harder it becomes because you're trying to appease all the different parties who deserve a part of the pie."

One plan suggested during talks included a flexible form for the Triple Crown agreements -- a, b, or c options that an owner could select when signing off -- sending all or none of the funds to charity or divvying the proceeds according to a predetermined split. This idea seems practical given the degrees of variation between previous sponsor-jockey agreements; when Weitsma inked a $200,000 deal between owner Roy Chapman, jockey Stewart Elliott, and sponsors Inphone before the 2004 Belmont Stakes, for instance, Chapman gave his approval based on a four-way split between Elliott and the colt's exercise rider, groom, and barn foreman. And last year, when Kent Desormeaux and IEAH came to an agreement on a UPS sponsorship deal believed to have been in the $500,000 range, Desormeaux took home a third of the money and the owners kept the rest.

Ultimately, the organizations are also looking at a proposal which would give 40 percent of jockey advertising revenues to the rider, 40 percent to the owner, and 10 percent each to Thoroughbred Charities of America and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys' Fund. The Guild agreed to this proposal and is waiting for TOBA to gather feedback from its' members.

In the meantime, suggestions have also been made to reconfigure jockey sponsorships into "owner endorsements," an option which the Guild vehemently opposes.

"These actions threaten to turn a promising opportunity with the TOBA agreement for a win-win situation into a disaster in which everyone loses," Meyocks said. "Why go back on the progress that has been made thanks to the help of tracks like Churchill Downs, key industry individuals, and the riders?"

Meyocks pointed out that the recent arrangements have not only been a boon to the sport where jockeys are concerned; in the past two years, more than $1 million has gone to industry-based charities from the sponsorship money received from NetJets, contributions from Triple Crown jockeys such as Velazquez, who donated his full portion of the revenue to charity, and additional donations from individuals such as WinStar Farm's Bill Casner and NetJets' Richard Santulli.

***

Overall, there's no doubt progress has been made in the situation as Ludt said, "Six or seven years ago we weren't even talking about this."

But concerns have been raised by members of the Guild that an agreement for the Triple Crown races will not be reached before the next season, which begins in May of 2010, and signs would certainly point in that direction. KHRC rules committee chair Ned Bonnie told The Blood-Horse's Ron Mitchell in a Dec. 2 report that it is more important for the parties involved in the jockey advertising negotiations to work toward a solution that can be used in the future, even if an agreement is not worked out in time for the 2010 events.

"We are trying to get our portion done before the 2010 Kentucky Derby," Metzger said of TOBA's timeline. "At the same time, I think the (Kentucky) rule in place now does pretty adequate job of protecting the interests of the owners. In the past, advertising has gone through the jockeys and the owners presented with piece of paper to give their consent, many times without knowing financial details of the sponsorship. I think the main focus and goal is that there should be full transparency between owners and jockeys regarding these sponsorships."

Regardless of the details of agreements between various industry groups, one thing is certain; if the Thoroughbred racing industry is going to move to the next level where corporate endorsements are concerned, jockeys and owners have to come to a meeting point.

"If we can start to bring in these fields as a whole it will give the sponsors a much more tangible assurance," Weitsma said. "But right now, the way things stand between the various groups, I don't feel comfortable pursuing a sponsor."

Claire Novak is an award-winning journalist whose coverage of the thoroughbred industry appears in a variety of outlets, including The Blood-Horse magazine, the (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union and NTRA.com. She lives in Lexington, Ky.


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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jockey Cajamarca dies following fall in Chile

Cajamarca was riding 45-to-1 longshot Spigado in the six-furlong

event. He was immediately taken to Chile University Hospital, but

arrived in extremely serious condition and was placed in the intensive

care unit.
 

Jockey Luis Silva, aboard Innocence, and jockey Emilio Quiroga,

aboard Big Crown, also fell but escaped injury.
 

The 44-year-old was the second jockey to die this year on a Chilean

racecourse following the death of 20-year-old Jonathan Lavin, who

died from massive injuries sustained in a fall at Club Hipico de Concepcion

in March.—Michael Burns/Thoroughbred Times TODAY

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fateful move that changed two lives

Below that come the less obvious. You can be the rider that walks away from a spill where another jockey doesn't get up. And that is the path Jamie Theriot has been walking since last May 23 at Arlington Park.

In the Arlington Matron Handicap late that afternoon, Theriot had the mount on Sky Mom for one of his main clients, trainer Al Stall. Rene Douglas was aboard a Woodbine shipper he never had ridden named Born to Be. At the quarter pole, Theriot was trapped at the fence, just behind the leader. Douglas and Born to Be raced a couple paths off the rail. A hole opened outside the lead horse, and, steering outside, Theriot went for it. So did Douglas. The two horses came together. More violent bumps regularly occur in horse races. But for whatever reason, Born to Be careened crazily to the outside, clipping heels, and going down in a grotesque fall.

The filly eventually died from her fall, and her rider was terribly hurt. Douglas had emergency surgery later that night to fuse vertebrae in his spine, and he had more broken bones higher up his back. Douglas, 42, has not walked since he took his seat on Born to Be, and he may never regain use of his legs. His life - changed inexorably.

Theriot (pronounced TAIR-ee-o) bears no external scars. His horse completed the race unscathed. Theriot did not even know Douglas had gone down until after the finish. But the Douglas fall has changed Theriot, too.

"I've been in spills, with me and other people," Theriot, 30, said during the Keeneland meet in October. "But no, I never had somebody fall and have my number get taken down. First time in 13 years I dropped a rider, ever. I remember it like it was yesterday."

Do not chalk the incident up to lack of skill: Few current jockeys have been more seasoned than Theriot. Theriot began race-riding at 16, at Evangeline Downs, near his birthplace in Breaux Bridge, La. He branched out from regional to national jock after becoming first-call rider for once-powerful trainer Cole Norman in 2002. He won his first Grade 1 race in 2007 at Keeneland and was leading rider at Fair Grounds during the 2007-08 meeting. And even while still in the shadow of the Douglas incident, Theriot went to Saratoga for the first time last summer and won the Grade 1 Hopeful aboard Dublin for trainer Wayne Lukas.

Theriot could be among the last of a generation of Cajun riders from the area around Lafayette in central Louisiana, the region that has produced stars such as Eddie Delahoussaye, Kent Desormeaux, and Robby Albarado. Calvin Borel is the first cousin of Theriot's father, Harold. The jockey Larry Melancon is the brother of Theriot's mother, Judy. Harold Theriot's grandmother was a trainer, and his father had racehorses that Harold rode at the bush tracks in the area.



THE TURN FOR HOME

Frames from the videotape of the Arlington Matron Handicap on May 23, with Jamie Theriot on Sky Mom and Rene Douglas on Born to Be. Elapsed times into the 1 1/8-mile race calculated by Daily Racing Form.

Previous Next

1:26.15 - Douglas and Theriot race as a team behind a wall of horses.



The bushes, unsanctioned weekend race meets held in the fields around Lafayette, were where the young Cajun jocks cut their teeth. Race-riding as kids gave them an edge on young riders from other parts of the country less saturated in horse racing. Jamie Theriot rode some at the bush track,s too, but by then, there were only a couple left, and most of the local trainers had started racing at nearby Evangeline Downs or at Delta Downs in Vinton.

"I didn't let him ride the bushes a lot when he was young," said Harold Theriot, 57, who still trains the odd horse or two and has always supplemented equine work with a second job. "There were a couple left, but it wasn't like when I was growing up. People didn't care anymore. They'd put you on anything."

Back then, Harold Theriot had a barn full of horses. At 5, Jamie figured out how to grab onto a stirrup and climb onto a tacked-up horse. By the time he was 9, he was regularly galloping around the three-eighths-mile training track on the family farm.

"I was raised to be around racehorses," Jamie said. "There was never any fear. I would fall, get right back on, never scared."

The bush tracks are gone now, and Cajun kids no longer get that kind of early schooling. But there is another Theriot generation coming up. Jamie is the father of boys, 8 and 5, who are being raised by his parents outside Breaux Bridge. Their mother's relationship with Jamie ended years ago, and she has struggled with addiction. Both boys are said to have been bitten by the riding bug. Theriot has remarried, and his wife, Dawn, mother of three children from former relationships, is expecting a child.

Theriot's mother, Judy, said riding was all he ever wanted to do. He has broken a leg several times and has suffered the typical litany of injuries to longtime jockeys - broken collarbones, punctured lungs, and the like - but mostly, his career has been ascendant, in great part because he had a strong idea of how to ride from the start.

"He didn't want to think of anything else," said Judy Theriot, 55. "He was a little kid, out there practicing switching sticks."

Theriot said he never had a problem walking the fine line between doing everything possible to win a race and doing so within bounds considered safe.

"Like all young riders, you want to be cocky and this and that, think you know certain things," Theriot said. "Once you get out there in that real world, that attitude changes. I mean, the older riders showed me a lot. When I had the bug, I never got screamed at for being a loose rider or anything. I knew where I was. I made a mistake maybe going in a spot late, taking too long to make a decision. I think that comes to every rider with time. But as for being a loose rider, no. I went a long time before I got my first set of days."

Theriot's voice becomes forceful, assertive, when asked about his awareness of unfolding events on the track. "Every race I ride, no matter where I'm laying, I know how many there is behind me or in front of me," he said.

So this is Theriot's personal and professional opinion: He did nothing wrong in the Matron.

"We both were going for the same hole," Theriot said. "His horse just overreacted and lost control. We both were going for the same hole - that's the first thing that came to my mind when it was occurring, and it's still there to this day: We were going for the same hole. It happens every day, it really does."

Arlington stewards handed Theriot a 30-day suspension, far longer than the typical careless-riding penalty ranging from three to seven days. Eddie Arroyo, the state steward, declined to comment on the ruling, citing possible future legal action concerning the accident. The ruling, dated May 25, cited Theriot for allowing Sky Mom to "jostle" another horse, then went into territory not usually covered by saying that Theriot's actions caused "the jostled horse to clip heels and fall injuring both horse and rider."

Theriot, one could say, was being punished not just for committing a foul; the suspension also accounted for what happened after the foul had been committed.

Theriot, who filed and then dropped an appeal of the stewards' ruling, said he believes the suspension was punitive and unwarranted. And it hardly could have come at a worse time, in the midst of the Churchill Downs spring-summer season, one of Theriot's prime meets.

If the penalty seemed harsh, Theriot was being judged more harshly by some people inside racing. Many seemed to know that Theriot and Douglas had exchanged heated words at Keeneland the month before.

"Jamie said to me, 'Daddy, we did have a few words,'" Harold Theriot said. "But they all do that. You might say something one day. Rene got up at Keeneland and told him something, and Jamie said something back to him."

Douglas and his wife, Natalia, did not respond to repeated interview requests. In September, Douglas said in an interview with the Horse Racing Television network: "I didn't see the race yet, but I will see it, and I think that accident should never have happened."

Douglas's best friend among Chicago jockeys is the rider Eddie Razo. Razo's wife, Doreen, was among the first to reach the stricken Douglas on the Arlington racetrack. But even Razo said he cannot support the idea that Theriot was trying to drop Douglas.

"I never heard him say it," said Razo. "Several people said that [Theriot] told him that, but in my mind, I don't think he meant it.

"It's Rene's decision to blame who he wants to blame. I don't want to be part of blaming nobody. It's not fair for me to blame somebody when my emotions don't go that way. Like I said, Rene is my friend, but I don't want to be blaming Jamie Theriot. Hopefully, he's sorry about what happened. That's all I can say about that. It's better just to keep your words to yourself. I've been riding for so many years; I never felt going to a track, even if a guy is mad at me, he will ever try to drop me."

horse name
Benoit & Associates
Rene Douglas (right) still has no feeling in his legs and has not walked since the May 23 incident.

Razo said that threats, and even threatening moves during a race, are common among riders.

"I know some guys, even myself sometimes, put someone in a tight switch, but I've got it under control," he said. "It's never in my mind to cause something like that."

So Theriot took his 30 days. His boys came up from Louisiana, and they spent time boating. The family times felt good, but just beneath the surface, Theriot brooded on the part he had played in Douglas's accident.

"It was tough, the first couple weeks, and it's still tough when I think about it," said Theriot. "It's something unfortunate that you know happened. But it's something I can't just think about all the time because it would make me miserable. I try to put it behind me. I still think about Rene and his family. It's a bad deal all the way around, it really is."

Theriot's suspension ended in late June.

"To be honest with you, when I came back to riding, my first two races I rode at Churchill I won, and going into them, I didn't think about it," Theriot said. "But you know when it hit me, was when I crossed the wire. I thought about Rene."

Robby Albarado, Theriot's friend and rival, said he saw the Douglas incident take its toll on Theriot.

"Believe me, I saw him in tears at Churchill Downs," said Albarado. "He's a good kid, very thoughtful. It hit him pretty hard."

"He's called up and cried many a time with me," said Judy Theriot.

Whatever grief and guilt he felt, Theriot kept moving forward. Riding horses is his job. His mother calls him a workaholic. Theriot doesn't drink, said he's never touched drugs. While other teenagers went out at night, Theriot went to bed. Up at 4:30 or 5, chores, school, work around the barn: That was the routine. And at almost 5-foot-9, tall for a jockey, Theriot tacks 118 pounds; his size demands rigid discipline to maintain weight.

"He's a solid guy, and I don't think he's made many mistakes," said Stall. "He shows up in the mornings, and he shows up in the afternoon. He's got the perfect way of thinking about all this, I believe. He's young enough, and he knows in his heart there wasn't anything malicious about what he did."

Theriot has wanted to say as much to Douglas himself, but to no avail: His efforts to reach the Douglases have been rebuffed. Late this summer, after suffering setbacks that prevented him from fully engaging in physical therapy, Douglas moved from Chicago back to Florida, where his family has long had a home. Douglas still has no feeling in his legs and has continued his rehabilitation, but reports on his condition have been rare since he left Chicago.

"We've had no contact," Theriot said. "I think with time it's going to heal itself. We'll somehow get in contact with each other. I still want to. If he called me today, I'd pick up the phone. I would listen to him. I'd listen if it takes him an hour to tell me what he needs to tell me. I'd sit there and listen to him. If he wanted to cuss and holler and all that, well, so be it. And, when he's done, I'd say, 'You need to hear how I feel and how I felt.' And we can go from there."   Marcus Hersh/Daily Racing Form

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Velazquez Named Jockey of the Week

Velazquez’s biggest score of the week came on December 4 when he rode Rule to a neck victory in the $750,000 Boyd Gaming’s Delta Jackpot Stakes (G3) at Delta Downs.

Velazquez, 38, currently ranks fifth among the nation’s jockeys in terms of purse earnings for the year with $12,940,758 through Tuesday.

Velazquez has enjoyed a successful season. He won two races at the Royal Ascot meet for trainer Wesley Ward. In the U.S., he has scored in 20 graded stakes, including at the Grade 1 level with Quality Road, Pyro, Kodiak Kowboy, and Informed Decision among others.

Off the track, the two-time Eclipse Award-winner as outstanding jockey (2004 and ’05) has served as chairman of the Jockeys’ Guild since July 2006. Originally from Puerto Rico, Velazquez now resides in West Hempstead, New York, with his wife, Lerina, and their two children. His father-in-law is trainer Leo O’Brien and is brother-in-law is trainer Keith O'Brien.  Thoroughbred Times TODAY

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

SANTA ANITA GEORGE WOOLF FINALISTS ANNOUNCED

            The Woolf Award has been presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950 and is regarded as one of the most prestigious honors in all of racing.  It honors and recognizes those riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred racing.  The winner’s trophy is a replica of the life-size statue of George Woolf, which adorns Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area. 

            The statue was created through donations from the racing public after Woolf’s death which followed a spill at Santa Anita on Jan. 13, 1946.  Woolf, who was regarded as one of the nation’s top big-money jockeys, was affectionately known as “The Iceman,” and was revered by both his colleagues and members of the media as a fierce competitor and consummate professional.

            The 2010 Woolf Award ballot features some of the highest profile jockeys in the world and also represents a broad diversity of geographic regions.

            Throughout 2009, Louisiana-born Calvin Borel maintained the highest of profiles on racing’s biggest stages.  Borel orchestrated an unforgettable last-to-first run aboard 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby, one day after winning the Kentucky Oaks by 19 lengths aboard superstar filly Rachel Alexandra.

            Borel, who won his first recognized race in 1976, would go on to win the Preakness Stakes aboard “Rachel” and would also pilot the Steve Asmussen trainee to victories against colts in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park.

            Like so many top Cajun riders before him, Borel began riding in match races in his native Louisiana long before he was old enough to compete at recognized racetracks.  From “matching” at age eight, to winning his first Kentucky Derby in 2007 aboard Street Sense at 40, Borel’s career has been punctuated by hard work and a no-nonsense approach to the sport’s daily rigors.  Annually during the Oaklawn Park meeting, Borel can commonly be found mucking stalls and performing other menial stable duties for his brother, trainer Cecil Borel.

            Now 43, Borel is an iconic figure on the Kentucky-Arkansas-Louisiana circuit and has won riding titles throughout the region.  As he demonstrated in winning Derbies aboard both Street Sense and Mine That Bird, Borel has a penchant for hugging the rail en route to heart-pounding victories and has thus earned the moniker “Bo-Rail.” 

Through Nov. 30, 2009, Borel’s lifetime win total stood at 4,830, with $106,800,825 in earnings.        

            Nicknamed “Go-Go” for his hard-charging style, Garrett Gomez, the son of a jockey, Louie, and a native of Tucson, Arizona, has overcome personal problems and established himself as one of the great riders of his era, as he has been America’s leading money-winning jockey for the past three years, in 2006, ’07 and ’08.

            Gomez, 37, broke his maiden at Santa Fe Downs, New Mexico on Aug. 19, 1988, and his career began to take off in the mid ’90s, as he won back-to-back runnings of the Arkansas Derby in 1994 and ’95.  In 1997, he won the “Mid-America Triple,” at Arlington Park in Chicago, by taking the American Derby, American Classic, and the Secretariat Stakes (his first Grade I), all aboard Honor Glide.

            As a result of substance abuse issues, Gomez did not ride for parts of 2002, ’03 and ’04.  However, he returned to full-time riding late in 2004, and by the end of 2005, Gomez had become one of the top big money riders in America, as he won his first two Breeders’ Cup races, the 2005 Juvenile with Stevie Wonderboy and the ’05 Mile with Artie Schiller.

            At the suggestion of recently retired Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, Gomez hired top agent Ron Anderson early in 2006, facilitating his ascension to the top of his profession.

            “Go-Go’s” other Breeders’ Cup wins include the 2007 Juvenile Fillies aboard Indian Blessing, the ’07 and ’08 Sprint with Midnight Lute, and the ’08 Juvenile with Midshipman.  Gomez reached the 3,000 win plateau by taking the Oak Tree Mile on Sept. 28, 2008, aboard Hyperbaric.

            An integral part of the hit series “Jockeys” on Animal Planet cable network, Gomez has earned the respect of the racing community by dealing with his personal issues in a forthright manner and has contributed generously to charitable causes such as the California-based Winners’ Foundation.

            Gomez’s career earnings, through Nov. 30, stood at $159,889,171, from 3,256 wins.   He resides in nearby Duarte with his wife Pam and children Jared, Amanda, Shelby and Collin.

            Randy Meier, 55, a native of Nebraska and a fixture in the Chicago area for nearly 30 years, has overcome catastrophic injuries throughout his career and remains a force to be reckoned with at Hawthorne Race Course, where he is that track’s all-time winningest jockey.

            Meier, who won his 4,000th race in 2008 at Arlington Park, is also the all-time leading rider at the now shuttered Sportsman’s Park near Chicago.  Meier has been a dominate force in the Chicago area since 1980.  His son Brandon has followed in his footsteps and is now plying his trade as a regular rider in Chicago as well.

            Meier’s win total through Nov. 30, was 3,917, with career earnings of $58,090,118.

            The epitome of a hard-working rider throughout his 28-year career, Gallyn Mitchell, 46, has become a fixture at Emerald Downs, outside of Seattle.  With 1,173  victories at the Auburn, Washington track, which opened in 1996, Mitchell is the all-time leader at Emerald and is the only Emerald-based jockey to amass more than $10 million in career earnings.

            A native of Southern California, Mitchell was nicknamed “Booger” by his mother, a moniker that has followed him throughout his racing career. 

            Mitchell won the Pacific Northwest’s marquee race, the Longacres Mile, for the second time this past Aug. 16, with Assessment.  He won his first Mile aboard Edneator, at 41-1, in 2000.

            Mitchell and his wife of 21 years, Denise, have three children, all of whom are deeply involved with horses.  Denise also serves as “Booger’s” agent, a role she has held since 1995.  Together, they are atop the all-time stakes-won list at Emerald, with 63 added money triumphs. 

            Mitchell broke his maiden on Jan. 29, 1981 at Santa Anita and through Nov. 30,  he now has 2,437 career wins and $18,172,082 in lifetime earnings.

            In large part due to a family tragedy that befell long time client and trainer Frank Lucarelli, whose son Tony died of brain cancer at age 16 in 2005, Mitchell heads at least one charity event a year, usually a golf tournament or a poker ride, either on horses or motorcycles.

            Well respected by his peers, Mitchell is also a fierce competitor.  “You’ve got to outride him, he won’t give you anything,” said jockey Ricky Frazier in 2008.  “He’s very knowledgeable, rides his heart out and makes you ride better to beat him.  It’s an honor to ride against him.”

            Like Mitchell and Gomez, DeShawn Parker, 38, will be a Woolf finalist for the first time in 2010.  America’s second leading rider with 333 wins in 2008, Parker has long been a fixture at Mountaineer Park, where he has won several riding titles and where he rode regularly for the late Dale Baird, the winningest trainer in Thoroughbred history.

            A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Parker, who is African-American, is one of the nation’s taller jockeys, at 5’ 10”.

            “Everyone is so shocked when they first see him because he’s so tall, but to watch how he folds down and lays down on a horse, he’s just a natural,” said Parker’s father, Darryl, in a 2003 interview.

            Involved in the Thoroughbred industry since 1964, the elder Parker became America’s first black steward in 1986, at Thistledown, in suburban Cleveland.

            “Basically, the reason I’m riding today is because of him,” said DeShawn Parker.  “I always hung around him when he was a pony boy, and when he became the clerk of scales in Cleveland, I got to sit in the jockeys’ room and I just loved it.  He’s definitely my main influence.”

            Through Nov. 30, 2009, Parker is credited with 3,101 wins, and $35,127,883 in career earnings.  Santa Anita Communications Department

 

--30--

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

JOCKEYS’ GUILD’S 2009 ANNUAL ASSEMBLY WRAPS UP IN ARIZONA

 

            Three new model rules were adopted by the ARCI on Sunday December 6, one concerning mount fees, another regarding weights carried and the third establishing uniform weigh out/in procedures.

 

            The ARCI new model rule for mount fees includes an increase for losing mount fees and requires that the Jockeys’ Guild and local horsemen’s associations reach an agreement on the applicable fees 30 days prior to the race meet.  In the absence of an agreement, model rule guidelines should apply.  Additionally, the mount fees are indexed for inflation based on an average of several measures of the cost of living.

 

            Regarding weight carried, the new model rule states that the minimum weight requirement is now 118 pounds except in the case of apprentice jockeys.  The previous rule had been outdated and not been used for decades.

 

            The third model rule concerning weighing out/in allows for 3 lbs of safety equipment and upon approval of the stewards, an additional 3 lbs for inclement weather clothing.  The new regulations also specify the equipment that is included within the new weight limits for weighing out/in. 

 

            Racing programs should now inform the public of the weight rules to ensure greater transparency to the public and owners of the actual weight being carried by each horse.

 

            “The ARCI took a big step forward with these new model rules,” said Terry Meyocks, National Manager of the Jockeys’ Guild.   “The first provides a basis for more realistic mount fees across the country, an area that has been stagnant in some jurisdictions for more than 20 years.”

 

            “The second model rule provides a more up-to-date weight minimum to be carried by horses competing in races in this country.  The third model rule concerning a uniform rule on weighing out, weighing in procedures is a great improvement.  With many different jockeys riding in various jurisdictions during the course of a year, it only makes sense to have a standardized rule.  Additionally, a uniform rule provides consistency to all racing officials and track managements.”

 

            On Monday, December 7, 2009, jockeys from across the country met and received reports from Meyocks and Vice Chairman G.R. Carter that outlined the advances the Guild has made in 2009.  They include:

1.       Stabilizing the Guild ‘s finances

2.       Entering into successful partnerships with many industry organizations to focus on       growing the sport and furthering the mutual interests of all participants 

3.       Securing losing mount fee increases at many tracks around the country

4.       Protecting the rights of jockeys to due process including at Charles Town, West Virginia

5.       Supporting successful growth in the PDJF program and its merger with the Disabled Jockeys Endowment

6.       Continuing to develop jockey sponsorship opportunities at the Triple Crown and other races

7.       Participating in the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance

 

            The Assembly also discussed ways of increasing revenue for the Guild and encouraging new member participation.

 

            Monday afternoon, the Assembly heard reports from many leading figures in the racing industry including Nick Nicholson, President and CEO of Keeneland, Larry Eliason who is the Chairman of the ARCI Model Rules & Practices Committee and Corey Johnsen, President of Kentucky Downs. John Unick of MOC Insurance Services, addressed jockey insurance issues while River Downs’ John Engelhardt, President of the Turf Publicists of America, discussed the re-institution of jockey trading cards and gave out samples.

 

            Starting the Tuesday morning sessions, a panel discussion on “Giving a Leg Up to the Industry,” Corey Johnsen and jockeys Robby Albarado and G.R Carter discussed ways that jockeys could help promote the sport.  The discussion focused on legislative issues, sponsorship opportunities for jockeys at the Triple Crown and other key races and jockey challenges.  Also discussed was the more than $1 million raised for racing charities from jockey sponsorships in 2008 and 2009.  Giving back to the local community was emphasized.

 

            Nancy LaSala, Executive Director of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF) gave a recap of events and fundraisers held throughout 2009 at various locations and tracks around the country to benefit the fund.   She was joined by Matthew Straight who shared his family’s experience with the PDJF after the catastrophic injury of his brother, Michael Straight, at Arlington earlier in the year. 

 

            Closing the morning session, Roy Arnold, President of Arlington Park, TRA President, and Board Member of PDJF stressed the actions he believes necessary to reduce on-track injuries.

 

            Tuesday afternoon’s first session featured Mike Zeigler, the Executive Director of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, discussing compliance standards, key initiatives, safety equipment, catastrophic injury programs, medication and testing, safety and health of riders, an aftercare program for retired riders and compliance standards.  He also set out the benefits to riders provided by the Safety and Integrity Alliance, both directly and indirectly.

 

            The Assembly concluded with a panel discussion titled “Weighing in on the Industry” moderated by Dan Fick, Executive Vice President and Executive Director of The Jockey Club.  The panelists included jockey Robby Albarado, Jockeys’ Guild Regional Manager Jeff Johnston, National HBPA President Joe Santanna and Alan Foreman, President and CEO of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

 

            Among the topics of discussion were the new ARCI scale of weights, the ARCI weigh out/in rule, mount fees, workers’ compensation and health insurance for jockeys and exercise riders. 

 

            “The jockeys had not received any raise in losing mount fees since 1985 except for one $5 raise,” said Meyocks.  “Negotiations for increases started long before this economic downturn.  In all cases, we have tried to be fair and reasonable to the owners and have adjusted losing mount fees based on tiered purse levels.

 

            “We want all segments of the industry to know that the Jockeys’ Guild and its member jockeys want to be part of the solution to racing’s challenges and to work with all segments of the industry to overcome any obstacles we may face,” said Meyocks.  “The jockeys have felt welcome and have enjoyed the interaction with the other industry members.  They look forward to continuing to be a part of the process.  I think the Assembly has been informative for the jockeys and everybody else in attendance.  I would like to thank the jockeys, all of the speakers and the University of Arizona Racetrack Industry Program for their help in staging this event.”

 

 

-30-

 

Contact: The Jockeys’ Guild

              (859) 305-0606

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Conflict Over Model Rule on Jockey Mount Fees

 

There has been a movement toward increasing the fees, with about 20 jurisdictions having raised the minimum. But racetracks in major jurisdictions, including Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, have not taken action.

According to statistics provided during the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing & Gaming in Tucson, Ariz., mount fees were $25 in 1964 and $45 in 2001. The model rule, based on purse levels, sets the range at $40-$115 at tracks where there is no agreement between horsemen and jockeys.

The model rule isn’t a mandate; state racing commissions don’t have to adopt it. Still, the National HBPA believes the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which oversees model rules, shouldn’t be involved in economics.

“Economics should be removed from the model rules process,” National HBPA president Joe Santanna said. “Economics should be determined between the affected parties. We feel RCI should not be acting as a union negotiator.”

The National HBPA proposal, approved by its board of directors Dec. 7, calls for a reallocation of the about $99 million jockeys earn each year. The proposal calls for winning jockeys to get 9% of a purse instead of 10%, which would free up $7.2 million for losing mount fees, roughly $30 per rider.

Santanna said $86 million of the $99 million goes to the riders of the top three finishers in each race, leaving $13 million for the rest—62% of all jockeys. He called it a “top-heavy plan.”

The National HBPA cites statistics that show horse owners lose $1.75 billion a year. Thus, the group believes, owners shouldn’t have to take another hit.

The Jockeys’ Guild has different ideas. Guild regional manager Jeff Johnston said reallocation of funds isn’t acceptable.

“We’re not fans of the Robin Hood plan,” Johnston said, suggesting a reallocation of funds for trainers, purses, and racetracks. “Why not have Churchill Downs share part of its money with Beulah Park and River Downs? An increase in jockey fees isn’t going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said the THA isn’t involved in the debate because its affiliates all have cut deals on mount fees. But Foreman said he doesn’t believe RCI should be involved in the issue.

Foreman said the “core problem” is 30%-40% of jockeys make the bulk of the money, while the rest “get the scraps.”

“I’m trying to help that group,” he said. “(The model rule) isn't going to make a darn bit of difference.”

The Maryland plan is targeted to riders not at the top, Foreman said. Jockeys that make less than $100,000 a year with 50 or more mounts get a mount-fee bonus at the end of each year.

Foreman said the model rule limits the ability to “think outside the box.” He said economic conditions in the industry are forcing it to rethink how it does business, and maintaining an old structure for jockey mount fees is counterproductive.

Chicago-based rider Jerry La Sala, who aid he respects all points of view on the issue, noted mount fees weren’t increased for 37 years.

“How do you expect someone to even make it?” La Sala said. “It’s the guys running fourth through last that put on the show. Racetracks want these full fields.”

Santanna said some progress had been made before the RCI stepped in and requested agreement before its Dec. 5 meeting. Guild national manager Terry Meyocks acknowledged the working relationship but said the Guild was stymied by more prominent jurisdictions.

“It has been a tough couple of years,” Meycocks said. “We’ve had major problems with Kentucky and Oaklawn Park. It’s the tracks with purses of $400,000 (a day) and up that we’re struggling with, but smaller tracks like Fairmount Park and Finger Lakes have stepped up. We need to find some common ground.”

The Arkansas HBPA opposed the increase in mount fees, but the Arkansas Racing Commission approved an increase that will take effect during the 2010 Oaklawn meet.
The Blood-Horse by Tom LaMarra

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Heated debate on mount fees, progress on safety

The debate broke out during a panel featuring horsemen and jockeys on Tuesday at the Symposium on Racing and Gaming Presented by the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program.

Jockeys plan to back a model rule passed by the Association of Racing Commissioners calling for jurisdictions to use a rate plan provided in the model rule for losing mount fees. The rule only kicks in if the two sides fail to reach an agreement 30 days before a meeting.

Because the Jockeys’ Guild and other rider groups have reached agreements on losing mount fees in many states in recent years, the model rule most likely would come into play in Kentucky, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Regulators in those states would first have to adopt the model rule, which suggests a scale of fees based on purse structure.

National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association President Joe Santanna said regulators should not force business decisions that award one industry group at the expense of another. He said the HBPA has requested an advisory opinion from the Federal Trade Commission on the model rule.

Arguing that Thoroughbred owners are already overburdened, Santanna said top riders could significantly increase the pay of riders on circuits with less purse money and for riders who do not win as often by cutting their 10% win percentage to 9%. He said such a change would provide $7.2-million to riders.

Santanna and National HBPA Chief Executive Officer Remi Bellocq do not have a problem with the first part of the model rule, which requires horsemen and riders to reach an agreement on mount fees 30 days before a meeting.

While debate raged on the mount fee issue, horsemen backed a model rule change that would start the jockey scale of weights at 118 pounds, with some allowances for apprentice riders.

Guild Regional Representative Jeff Johnston noted inconsistencies in the previous model rule as well as in rules on weight throughout the states. He said the simplified rule is clearer for jurisdictions wishing to adopt it and easier to follow for racing secretaries.

Johnston noted that racing secretaries quietly have increased the scale of weights in recent years and the new rule would not represent a big change for many circuits.

Santanna noted that fitter, healthier jockeys are better for the sport. He also said the new weights could allow experienced riders to continue their careers, even if they gain a pound or two.

Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, expressed concern that more weight could be added in future years and that added weight will provide some amount of added stress on horses.

Foreman’s support of adding workers’ compensation for workers, exercise riders, and jockeys proved popular with the Guild though. Foreman said workers’ compensation is the best way to assure racing’s workers and riders are protected and that its adoption in racing states has proved affordable and successful.

The Guild is conducting its national assembly in conjunction with the symposium. Earlier in the day, Mike Ziegler, executive director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance, outlined how plans to make tracks safer for horses benefits riders through reducing spills.

He listened to riders who expressed concern that they sometimes feel pressured to ride a horse that does not feel sound during pre-race exercise. Guild National Manager Terry Meyocks said the time has come for horses to be scratched when jockeys detect a problem, rather than finding another rider.

Meyocks also encouraged the alliance to work with other sports to fund research on head and neck injuries and keep a database on rider injuries similar to the database being assembled on horse injuries.

Ziegler said going forward, the alliance will consider more rider issues and requested continued input from jockeys.

“Frankly at the beginning of this, I didn’t do a good job of getting jockey input,” Ziegler said.

by Frank Angst/Thoroughbred Times

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Jockeys Urged to Promote, Lobby for Action

 The Guild held an open forum after its senate meeting Dec. 7. The organization will figure prominently in panel sessions during the Dec. 8-10 University of Arizona Symposium on Racing & Gaming.

The Association of Racing Commissioners International Model Rules Committee Dec. 5 took action on rules pertaining to jockeys. Larry Eliason, who chairs the committee, urged jockeys to attend state racing commission meetings to meet regulators and advocate for their causes.

“(Guild) regional managers can’t be everywhere,” Eliason said.

Eliason also said model rules are in effect best practices and aren’t intended to be cure-alls. “We can’t fix a local problem,” he said.

On the insurance front, riders were told numbers matter. John Unick, president of the Thoroughbred Racing Division of MOC Insurance Services, said an action plan is needed.

“The only way to insure jockeys properly is with critical mass,” Unick said. “Maybe the (NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance) is the best way to do it. Numbers talk, the rest of it walks.”

The industry is said to need more detailed information on jockey injuries. Insurance companies rely on such information for the purpose of developing policies.

On the promotional front, jockey cards similar to baseball cards are being resurrected. John Engelhardt, publicity director at River Downs and a free-lance photographer, and Pat Lang, track photographer at River Downs, Keeneland, and Turfway Park, are working on the project.

Engelhardt called on Guild members to encourage other jockeys to participate in promotions that help the business. He said at River Downs, usually the same handful of riders participate in various promotions.

“We need the guys in the jockeys’ room to get behind what we’re doing to promote you,” Engelhardt said.

Jo Lynn Johnston, wife of Guild regional manager Jeff Johnston and former marketing director at River Downs, acknowledged the sometimes difficult relationship between jockeys and track management.

“Obviously, it’s in the best interests of the jockeys if a racetrack is promoted, and if the track does well, jockeys will do well,” she said. “You need to change the mentality in the jockeys’ room.”

Keeneland president Nick Nicholson, who also spoke to the Guild, called for better communication and mutual respect in the racing industry, especially given the financial difficulties faced by horse racing.

“We’re going to have to come together like we never have before,” Nicholson said. “We have to show a maturity we’ve been unable to show.”

Tom LaMarra/The Blood-Horse
Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Guild plans to push model rule on weights at local level

The Association of Racing Commissioners International board of directors adopted a model rule that will adjust the scale of weights to a minimum of 118 pounds for all jockeys except apprentices. The RCI’s model rules serve as recommendations for racing regulators, who then can take action at the state level.

At its national assembly on Monday, Guild members said they would follow up on the model rule by attending racing commission meetings to rally support.

RCI Model Rules and Practices Committee Chairman Larry Eliason met with the Guild on Monday to explain the process of crafting model rules and then adopting those model rules at the state level. Eliason said attendance of jockeys at meetings would carry more weight than Guild regional representatives, who are retired riders.

“The commission members see your names in the program,” Eliason said to the active jockeys.

National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Chief Executive Officer Remi Bellocq also attended the meeting and Guild National Manager Terry Meyocks thanked him for the HBPA’s support on the jockey weight issue. Bellocq acknowledged his group debated the issue at length before favoring the change.

“Ultimately, a big argument in the jockeys’ favor was that this new scale of weights could allow some journeyman riders to extend their careers by five or ten years,” Bellocq said, noting horsemen appreciate giving a leg up to an experienced rider.

The Guild, RCI, and HBPA are all conducting meetings in Tucson, Arizona, in conjunction or in advance of this week’s Symposium on Racing & Gaming, presented by the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program.

While the horsemen and jockeys have reached an understanding on the scale of weights, the HBPA plans to contest a new model rule that calls for regulators to establish a scale for jockey mount fees in the absence of a contract or agreement between horsemen and jockeys. HBPA President Joe Santanna plans to unveil a study on the economic impact of increased rider fees at the Symposium.

The RCI also passed a model rule establishing weigh-in and weigh-out rules for riders.

At Monday’s Guild meeting, members listened to a presentation from Keeneland Association President Nick Nicholson urging cooperation in the industry.

“We’re seeing shrinking purses in California, New York, and Kentucky. It’s not good for racing. It’s not good for breeding and sales,” Nicholson said. “We are going to have to come together in the industry like never before.”

Jockey Robby Albarado complimented friendly racetrack officials like Nicholson and Fair Grounds President Austin Miller for creating an atmosphere at their tracks that facilitates communication.

“Nick and Austin are the only two track presidents I’ve ever seen come into a jockeys’ room. I wish we could clone them,” Albarado said. “I’ve never seen the Churchill Downs president. I don’t even know his name.”

John Unick, president of the Thoroughbred racing division of Maroevich, O’Shea, and Coghlan Insurance Services, talked about personal insurance issues for riders as well as catastrophic injury coverage offered by tracks. He said most tracks now offer $1-million in insurance although some are still at $500,000 and Delaware Park is at $2-million.

The jockeys called for more information on which tracks offer which policies. Meyocks said there would be opportunity to acquire and publicize that information.

Turf Publicists of America President and River Downs publicist John Engelhardt outlined a proposal to create jockey trading cards for Guild members that the jockeys met with enthusiasm.  Frank Angst/Thoroughbred Times

Monday, December 07, 2009

Jockeys blame new synthetic track for Arlington Park injuries

They're now frightened of the Polytrack synthetic surface track officials installed to replace the dirt course after the summer of 2006 when 22 horses broke down during racing.

That summer, intense pressure from several groups helped lead to a switch in surfaces, a move that cost the track an estimated $10 million to complete.

Seeing two of their brethren - Rene Douglas, a six-time leading rider at Arlington, and apprentice jockey Michael Straight - fall to the synthetic surface and wind up paralyzed this summer still has the Arlington Park jockey colony on edge, even though they won't return there to ride until the spring of 2010, and even though they once supported the new surface.

"Where is PETA for people?" said one of the three jockeys who spoke to the Daily Herald on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution for themselves or the trainers and owners who employ them. "This is way beyond bad luck."

But Arlington Park continues to defend the Polytrack, saying jockey injuries have a variety of causes.

After undergoing surgery and rehab in Chicago after falling to the track and having his mount land on top of him, Douglas is now living with his family in Florida. Straight is still rehabbing in the Chicago area and will eventually relocate to Florida as well.

"The mood among the jockeys is if you fall, your career is probably over," said one veteran jockey. "Ninety percent of us are nervous."

The jockeys say falling on the Polytrack is like "hitting cement." Unlike dirt, they contend, there is no "give" to the artificial surface. One compared it to the way a yard dart sticks.

"You can see on (video replays) how over 1,000 pounds of horse and a jockey going 40 mph come to a complete stop in a matter of a few feet on Poly," one jockey said. "It's not like dirt where you slide and flip to dissipate the force over a distance. The worst fear of a jockey used to be getting run over by another horse. Now, it's hitting the ground."

"Every time someone's going down they're basically breaking their neck, and no one's willing to change it," another added. "How many times does a plane have to crash?"

Arlington Park President Roy Arnold, who in his previous life was responsible for investigating catastrophic aviation mishaps in the Marine Corps, rejects those claims as "anecdotal gossip."

"Usually what you find out is that there are a combination of factors," said Arnold, who pointed out the rotation of a body during an accident is a key factor. "You've got to step back and identify all the risk factors."

As for the jockeys' assertion that hitting the synthetic surface is more dangerous than hitting the dirt surface?

"I'm not buying it," said Arnold, who is on the board of the Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund. "There are 60 jockeys injured in PDJF - not one of them from (falling) on synthetic tracks."

It is expected that once the two-year waiting period to receive help from PDJF is over, that list will expand with Douglas and Straight in the ranks.

"I don't know what to say to them on that," Arnold said of the jocks' claim that there is a big difference between landing on dirt and synthetics. "There is no factual evidence.

"What's it like when you hit the ground at Hawthorne (on the dirt course in the winter), when the rider hits a solid frozen surface? I can't answer someone's anecdotal explanation."

The jockeys say they can.

"When the track (at Hawthorne) gets too dangerous," one said, "we cancel."

"I'd like to take the colonel (Arnold) and drop him off a horse at 35 mph," another said. "It's absolutely absurd that they tell us we don't hit the ground hard."

On the everyday danger of being a jockey, though, Arnold says there is no argument.

"There is a recognition of what they do is dangerous," he said. "The danger point hasn't changed before synthetic and since synthetic. We've had two tragedies. No one wanted to see that. Both because (horses) clipped heels.

"This is an emotional issue. It's about resistance to change."

Arnold says the focus of Arlington and the racing industry as a whole should be on keeping accidents to a minimum via better safety equipment, including new helmet and vest designs for jockeys, ensuring sounder horses are competing and keeping stringent guidelines on who is allowed to ride.

"In my view, every time I prevent a horse from breaking down, I prevent a potential catastrophic injury involving a jockey," Arnold said.

As for the safety of synthetic tracks, he points to a recently released study by the California Horse Racing Board that concluded fatal breakdowns have been reduced by 40 percent since the state mandated tracks switch from dirt to synthetic three years ago.

"It is what it is, which is a pretty dramatic falloff, contrary to what some trainers think," said Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California racing board, in a recent New York Times report. "When racehorses are at their best, I am absolutely convinced that they are safer on the synthetics then they are on the dirt."

But that doesn't appease the many horsemen - including some prominent trainers in Southern California - who have been complaining about synthetics since the day they were installed, specifically because of an increase in soft-tissue and hind-end injuries to horses thought to be caused by the surface.

It has reached the point in California where the racing board has hinted that if tracks there want to switch back to dirt, it won't stand in their way. Though the cost might.

"I feel clearly I was sold a bill of goods," former board Chairman Richard Shapiro told the Los Angeles Times. "In 20-20 hindsight, if it was today, I wouldn't have pushed toward the mandate. Am I disappointed? Absolutely."

Since Polytrack's installation at Arlington, fatal injuries for horses have remained in the average range, according to Daily Racing Form numbers. In 2007, there were 14 racing fatalities, two of those on turf, and three during training besides the 14. In 2008, there were 15 racing fatalities, four of those on turf, and seven in training. This year there were 12 racing and four training fatalities.

"I believe the track is safe," trainer Tony Mitchell told espn.com near the end of the Arlington meet. "But I've had a couple of (exercise) riders come off and the concussion just hits you. People are sustaining serious injuries and I couldn't blame a rider for riding a little more cautiously."

Terry Meyocks, president of the Jockeys Guild, says the Guild doesn't have a stance ­- pro or con - on synthetic surfaces.

"We've got to keep monitoring it," said Meyocks, who noted that three jockeys have died during racing over the last 15 months, none on synthetic surfaces. "We are going to be talking to tracks about a database on riders' injuries. It would be nice to get an idea on the impact of (different) surfaces.

"We need to look into everything."

Arnold welcomes that approach.

"We believe we're headed in the right direction and the statistics will show that in time," he said. "We have never said synthetics would be the silver bullet. We've said it was one step, among many, to move the sport forward."

Locally based jockeys applaud Arnold's effort in trying to prevent breakdowns, but wonder what happens to them when one eventually does occur.

"This is the first time since I've been riding that the trainers are actually worried for our safety," one said. "We're not afraid to ride. We're afraid to fall."

But they're not afraid to admit when the new synthetic surface was installed at Arlington before the 2007 meet, they were all for it.

"I was a fan of it the first year when we rode on it when it was brand new," one jockey said.

"It's true that some trainers thought they could run sore horses on Poly because it was thought to be a cure-all," another added. "Now, most of them don't want to come back.

"But for some of them - like me - this is home and we do love racing at Arlington. I just think they made an expensive mistake - but had good intentions."

So what is the answer then?

According to the jockeys, it's switching back from a synthetic surface to a dirt track.

"I think they tried to do something to better the sport but it didn't work," one said. "Everybody makes a mistake." 

By Mike Spellman | Daily Herald Staff
Friday, December 04, 2009

Jockeys' Guild Assembly in Arizona Dec. 7-8

 The meeting is being held in conjunction with the University of Arizona’s 2009 Symposium on Racing and Gaming.

The assembly begins Dec. 7 with a closed session that will be followed by a conference open to all symposium attendees from 1-3 p.m.

Among the speakers scheduled for the open session are Nick Nicholson, president and CEO of Keeneland; John Unick, president of the Thoroughbred Racing Division of Maroevich, O’Shea & Coghlan Insurance Services; Larry Eliason, chairman of the Association of Racing Commissioners International Model Rules and Practices Committee and the executive secretary of the South Dakota Commission on Gaming, and John Engelhardt, president of the Turf Publicists of America who will be discussing jockey trading cards.

A panel discussion titled "Giving a Leg Up to the Industry" at 9:30 a.m. begins the Dec. 8 program. Moderated by Corey Johnsen, president of Kentucky Downs, and including veteran riders Robby Albarado, G.R. Carter and John Velazquez, the group will discuss what jockeys can do to help promote the sport, according to the Guild release.

The panel discussion will be followed by Nancy LaSala, executive director of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and special guest Matthew Straight discussing the efforts of the PDJF and the Disabled Jockey’s Endowment. The Dec. 8 morning session concludes an address from Roy Arnold, president of the Thoroughbred Racing Association and Arlington Park.

The Dec. 8 afternoon program begins at 2 p.m. with Mike Ziegler, executive director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Safety & Integrity Alliance, and the assembly concludes with panel discussion titled "Horsemen and Jockeys – Weighing In" moderated by Dan Fick, executive vice president and executive director of The Jockey Club. During the panel discussion, representatives of the horsemen, the Jockeys’ Guild and journeymen riders will discuss issues of interest to all parties, including the current scale of weights, what is and is not included in this weight, how to effectively communicate actual weight to the betting public, mount fees and new regulations on equipment and its uses.



Thursday, December 03, 2009

Guild, TOBA Still Working on Jockey Ads

The issue was discussed Dec. 1 during a meeting of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s rules committee, which tabled any recommendation to the full commission because representatives of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, and the Jockeys’ Guild had not agreed upon a proposal.

TOBA president Dan Metzger told the rules committee members that his organization and the Jockeys’ Guild are attempting to arrive at a revenue split that would be applicable to jockey advertising for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the BlackBerry Preakness Stakes (gr. I), and the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Metzger explained that an agreement between owners and jockeys on jockey advertising would help in trying to attract a sponsor for all three races.

Metzger and Jeff Johnston, regional manager for the Guild, said the two parties were in the process of working with a tentative agreement that provides for a split in which 40% of jockey advertising revenues would go to the horse owner, 40% to the jockey, and 10% each to two charitable organizations – the Disabled Jockeys’ Fund and Thoroughbred Charities of America.

Even if TOBA and the Guild agree on terms, the agreement would have to go through several hurdles before it would be binding on the owners of horses participating in the Triple Crown races.

Metzger said the final agreement would have to be approved by the TOBA board and the organization’s membership. "We have a basis for an agreement, but my challenge would be to take it to the TOBA board and the owners to get them to agree to it, and that’s not the easiest thing in the world to get. There are differing opinions... What makes it difficult is that TOBA can’t directly represent all the owners. We can try. But when it comes down to it, that owner has to make his or own decision. We’re hopeful that if we bring in a national sponsor because of the efforts of the Guild and us working together, the owners would recognize that a sponsor would not come to the sport without some negotiations and flexibility on the ads."

One reason an attempt is being made to work out a revenue split on the jockey advertising would be to some confusion arose this year during Derby week when NetJets and the Jockeys’ Guild entered into an agreement pertaining to participants in the Churchill Downs race. Once they entered into the deal, then they was a flurry of activity to get consent from all of the owners of horses in the 20-horse (later reduced to 19 due to a late scratch) Derby field. The result was a lack of knowledge about how the $300,000 from NetJets, plus an additional $50,000 from WinStar Farms owner Bill Casner, was to be distributed.

According to a breakdown provided by Johnston at the KHRC rules committee meeting, the money was divided this way: $125,000 to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, $75,000 to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and $150,000 to the jockeys who rode in the Derby. The owners of the Derby horses, all of whom consented to the deal between the Guild and NetJets, did not receive any of the advertising revenues.

NetJets entered into similar agreements with jockeys who rode in the BlackBerry Preakness (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I), with different charities benefitting from the sponsorships. Johnston said the company’s $97,500 Preakness sponsorship, based on a fewer number of horses and fewer number of jockeys, was broken down with $45,000 to the Jockey Club Foundation, $7,500 to the Susan G. Koman Foundation (at the request of Jess Jackson, majority owner of Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra, and $45,000 went to the riders. In the Belmont, NetJets paid a sponsorship of $75,000, with $18,750 to the Backstretch Employees Service Team, $18,750 to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, and $38,000 to the jockeys (with John Velazquez designating $3,750 to benefit of paralyzed rider Rene Douglas).

What are trying to do is have the owner share in the revenue, from which they were essentially excluded from in the past," Metzger said. "There are some owners who would like to think they should get more since they are paying the bills. But what we’re trying to do is bring a sponsor into racing and get it off the ground."

David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, said there was some confusion on the part of owners about where the money was going, with many left with the understanding that all of the advertising revenue was going to charitable purposes.

"We have made our proposal from our association that we would like to have some transparency... on the Thursday before the Derby some owners believed that 100% of the money was going to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and they had no problems with that. When they learned that was not the case, it was too late to do anything about it," Switzer explained, adding that he did not hold the Guild or anyone else responsible for the misinformation. "They should know what the distribution is. We’re looking at transparency."

“We’ve been upfront with everybody who asked,” Johnston said of the 2009 Triple Crown jockey advertising revenue distribution.

If a revenue agreement is worked out well in advance of the first Triple Crown race – the Derby – and sponsorship is secured, as the field for the race on the first Saturday in May takes shape, the owners of horses that might possibly run in the race would be contacted in an effort to secure their consent, Metzger said.

Rules committee chair Ned Bonnie said it is more important for the parties involved in the jockey advertising negotiations to work toward a solution that can be used for future Triple Crown races, even if an agreement is not worked out in time for the 2010 races, rather than rushing into a decision.

Along with guidelines stipulating the types and sizes of logos that can be worn by jockeys on their clothing, the KHRC regulations on jockey advertising stipulate that the rider must have consent of the horse owner, association conducting the race meet, and the stewards in order to display the logos.  The Blood-Horse



Thursday, December 03, 2009

Lezcano Named Jockey of the Week

 

Lezcano amassed $406,830 during the time period, boosted by victories in the Remsen Stakes (G2) and Fall Highweight Handicap (G3).

Lezcano rode Cherokee Country to victory in the Fall Highweight on November 26 at Aqueduct then followed with a 4¾-length romp aboard Buddy’s Saint in the Remsen two days later at the Jamaica, New York, track.

Lezcano and Buddy’s Saint partnered to win the Nashua Stakes (G2) by a visually impressive 12 lengths earlier in November.

The 24-year-old rider is enjoying one of his best seasons to date. Through Monday, Lezcano has won 27 stakes, including 11 graded stakes.

Born in Panama and now living in Plantation, Florida, Lezcano started his U.S. riding career at Gulfstream Park before becoming a mainstay at the Meadowlands. Lezcano won the 2006 riding title at the Meadowlands and Tampa Bay Downs.

In 2008, Lescano won riding titles at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands. He also captured the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf aboard Maram.
Thoroughbred Times TODAY

 

 

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