In an attempt to draw attention to what they feel is inadequate insurance coverage, a number of jockeys boycotted the entry box at Churchill Downs for the Wednesday afternoon card on November 10th. This was not the first protest in this manner. Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens even refused to ride in this year's Breeders' Cup for the same reason.
Currently, their medical bills are covered up to $100,000 at most tracks including Churchill, but, after seeing several jockey casualties in the past year, including one fatality, they are of the opinion that the coverage should be at least $500,000. In some states, jockeys are protected under worker's compensation laws. These states include California and New York, however Kentucky, Louisiana, and Florida do not offer this protection.
Among the fourteen riders who joined the boycott were Shane Sellers, Rafael Bejarano, Robby Albarado, Mark Guidry, Calvin Borel, Willie Martinez, and Craig Perret. In retaliation for the boycott, Churchill president Steve Sexton banned the fourteen riders not only from the Downs, but from all Churchill Downs Inc.-owned facilities until further notice. This includes tracks currently running such as Hollywood Park, Calder Race Course, and their latest acquisition, the Fair Grounds.
Sexton said, "We believe the concern expressed by the jockeys over insurance coverage is a legitimate issue, but we do not agree with their approach to addressing that concern. The issue of health coverage for jockeys is one that demands and deserves industry-wide study and action. We are eager to participate in the effort to address that problem, but it would not be responsible for Churchill Downs to agree to any knee-jerk attempt to achieve a solution over the space of a few days." Sexton pointed out that Churchill Downs provides health coverage of up to $100,000 to all riders during each racing day, although the track is not required to do so. Churchill Downs also joins fellow tracks in the Thoroughbred Racing Associations ("TRA") in providing $2.2 million each year to The Jockeys Guild for health coverage. "Jockeys are independent contractors and are not employees of Churchill Downs or any other racetrack. Independent contractors in all other phases of the economy must accept the cost of their insurance coverage. We recognize the risks faced by our riders each day, but this is not an issue that Churchill Downs or any other track can settle. It is an important issue the requires the attention of the entire industry."
On Wednesday afternoon, ten of the banned riders approached the track to claim their belongings from the jockeys' room, intending to take their business to other states. After a brief standoff with track security and local police, track employees came out with the equipment and the jockeys left without further incident. A number of Teamsters Union members were also on hand to lend support to the banned riders.
The Jockeys' Guild released the following statement in response to these events: "It is difficult for jockeys to understand how the state of Kentucky, that lowered the tax burden of its citizens off the backs of these jockeys and that purports to be the racing capital of the world, does not provide adequate safety protection and insurance coverage for the jockeys' that risk their lives on a daily basis. If the states of California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Idaho protect their riders, certainly Kentucky, which prides itself in being the premier Thoroughbred racing venue, can do likewise. The behavior of Churchill Downs Inc. is morally reprehensible. The depraved indifference of the (Kentucky Horse Racing Authority) and track officials must be addressed immediately."
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