It is well-known that the Jockeys’ Guild has long advocated for uniform rules governing horseracing and for heightened safety standards to protect the lives and health of its members. When the organization was first created in 1940, its purpose was to protect the jockeys, to uphold the best interest of racing, and to assure for safe environment. The years leading up to the formation of the Guild were filled with frustration and pain. There was a widespread misuse of power over the jockeys and very few horsemen or racetrack management were sympathetic to the needs of the riders. It is disheartening to say, jockeys’ interests are still an afterthought for many in the industry who still continue to have a lack of respect for riders. For the past eighty years, the Guild has continued to fight many of the same battles to assure that the jockeys are afforded the protection and care that they rightfully deserve as the human athletes involved in our industry. Most recently, the Guild has taken action to ensure that the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority properly recognizes the concerns of the jockeys.
The Guild endorsed the creation of HISA and is not opposed to it now. Guild Co-Chairman Johnny Velazquez has served on HISA’s Racetrack Safety Standing Committee since May 5, 2021. The Guild does not harbor any ill-will toward any individual HISA officials. The Guild availed itself of every opportunity, both prior to and during the notice-and-comment period on the proposed rules, to have conversations and educate HISA and the FTC on the rules’ impact on its members. To this end, the Guild supplied both bodies with thoughtful and detailed feedback.
Unfortunately, in the version of the rules that went into effect on July 1, many of the Guild’s concerns remained unaddressed. Also, to date, many of the Guild’s questions remain unanswered. As currently written, the rules single out jockeys -- the only “covered persons” whose lives are literally on the line in every race -- without affording them the benefit of the enhanced safety protections they sought. Faced with a July 1 date for implementation of the rules, the Guild’s Board of Directors voted (with the exception of Co-Chairman Velazquez, who recused himself due to his ongoing participation on the Safety Committee) to honor the wishes of its membership and become a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit seeking to enjoin implementation of the rules.
Since the filing of the lawsuit, the Guild has taken heat from several organizations and individuals in the racing industry, and at times from the horseracing press. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Everyone is not entitled, however, to their own facts. Furthermore, the Guild has an obligation and duty to protect all of its members and must continue to listen to the concerns expressed by many of its members throughout the entire country. The hostility toward the Guild’s involvement in the lawsuit appears to be based on a lack of knowledge of the underlying facts. Contrary to the representations of some, the Guild did not join the Louisiana lawsuit merely to bargain the number of times jockeys may use the riding crop. Rather, the Guild joined the lawsuit to push HISA to modify its rules to address a number of concerns, all of which the Guild previously raised with HISA and/or the FTC. Among those concerns are:
The uncertainty regarding the costs of the implementation and operation of HISA and the amount allocated to covered entities and covered persons, which has the potential to put certain jockeys as well as racetracks, owners, breeders, and horsemen out of business.
HISA’s elimination of the ARCI model rule requirement which had been adopted in many states of having one certified paramedic trackside during training, and two certified paramedics trackside during racing. Just as the HISA rules require at least two operating equine ambulances, so should there be at least two operating human ambulances to safeguard the lives of jockeys. Cutting back on the number of required paramedics and ambulances is absolutely unacceptable. This will be used as a justification by some racetracks to cut costs. It also creates a potential for lack of medical care in the event of a multiple horse spill, which happens often.
The lack of a centralized database to maintain the baseline concussion tests, annual physicals, and to track jockey injuries, including return to ride releases from physicians in the event of an injury.
The lack of guidelines as to when a jockey can return to racing following injuries other than concussions.
The fact that the HISA rules penalize jockeys – and only jockeys – with a points system.
A non-tiered system of unduly harsh fines and suspensions for jockeys that has a disproportionate impact on jockeys who race at lower-grossing tracks and that many jockeys cannot afford.
The lack of an accessible, centralized database to maintain all rulings and track penalty points assessed to jockeys under the HISA rules.
Permitting the use of only two models of riding crops, which were initially made by a single manufacturer, creating supply problems and selective enforcement.
Disqualification of horses when jockeys exceed the permissible number of strikes, which at a major race, like the Kentucky Derby, could erode public confidence in the industry and will have a major impact on owners and breeders.
Uncertainty surrounding the appeals process for HISA rulings.
“Covered persons,” including jockeys, being required to waive their rights with respect to HISA’s search and seizure rules.
After July 1, inconsistences throughout the country in how the HISA rules are being interpreted and applied, leading to confusion and frustration not only among the jockeys, but also regulators, stewards, horsemen, owners and the betting public.
After July 1, selective enforcement of the rules, including but not limited to the riding crop rules, and the selective enforcement of some rules against jockeys only. Picking and choosing which rules to enforce is fundamentally unfair and erodes HISA’s stated goal of uniformity.
Requiring continuing education for jockeys at every race meet, while other “covered persons” are required to undergo such training only on an annual basis. (Prior to July 1, and following months of conversations with HISA, HISA informed us that this requirement was changed.)
It bears noting that HISA accreditation for racetracks is based on much of what had previously been done by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s (NTRA) Safety and Integrity Alliance. In fact, under the HISA rules, racetracks that had been previously accredited by the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance are automatically accredited under HISA for an extended period of time. In February of 2018, the Guild outlined the concerns with the NTRA and the continued failure to enforce the requirements pertaining to jockeys, including the necessity of having properly trained paramedics and fully staffed and operating ambulances. The links below, to videos/pictures that have been captured recently, provide an example of the conditions that the jockeys are expected to work in at a racetrack that is currently accredited by the NTRA. This has been an issue the Guild has been trying to get resolved for number of years, and of which many have been aware of, but still has not been fully and adequately been addressed. There is currently another racetrack which has zero water in the jockeys’ room, meaning the jockeys do not have access to showers and the laundry of the silks and equipment must be done off site. Yet, the jockeys are expected to continue to work in those conditions.
Those who have called for the Guild to withdraw from the lawsuit should ask themselves what the HISA rules as currently written are doing for jockeys and their safety. Those who have threatened adverse consequences against the Guild for its participation in the lawsuit should ask themselves how marginalization of jockeys’ voices could possibly benefit the industry.
For its part, the Guild intends to move forward. HISA is not going anywhere, and the Guild intends to work with it. The Guild is and has always been willing to make reasonable compromises. If HISA, in the future, ignores the Guild’s legitimate concerns, the Guild reserves its rights, including its right to bring as a last resort a legal action as it has done in Louisiana. However, if HISA shows itself willing to listen to the Guild’s concerns and to address them, it will find no better friend than the Guild. Moving the industry forward will require the insight and cooperation of all industry stakeholders.
Jockeys’ Guild, Inc. is the organization representing professional jockeys in Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing in the United States. It was founded in May 1940 and has approximately 1,050 members, including active, retired and disabled jockeys. The purpose is to protect jockeys, strive to achieve a safer racing environment, obtain improved insurance and other benefits for members and to monitor developments in local, state and federal laws affecting the racing industry, and in particular, the jockeys. For more information about the Guild, visit www.jockeysguild.com or www.facebook.com/jockeysguild