04/27/2004 11:00PM

Ad ruling is delayed by judge

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A federal judge in Kentucky on Wednesday delayed by one day a much-anticipated ruling on whether jockeys can wear advertising in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

Judge John Heyburn II of the U.S. District Court of Western Kentucky will issue the ruling at 10 a.m. on Thursday, according to court officials. Heyburn had said on Tuesday after two days of hearings that the ruling would be issued on Wednesday.

Five jockeys filed a lawsuit April 19 in the district court seeking to block the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority from enforcing a rule that prohibits jockeys from wearing advertisements on their clothes in Kentucky. The jockeys are Jerry Bailey, Jose Santos, Shane Sellers, Alex Solis, and John Velazquez.

Kentucky's regulations state that a jockey cannot wear anything attached to his or her clothing that would be contrary to the "traditions of the turf." In the past, regulators have construed the rule to prohibit advertising.

During testimony on Monday and Tuesday, lawyers for the jockeys argued that the regulation violates the riders' free-speech rights. Bailey and Sellers said during testimony that they have been offered $30,000 endorsement deals to wear advertisements during the Derby.

The delay came on the same day that jockey John Velazquez, the rider of Pollard's Vision, was quoted on an ESPN television show as saying he was told that jockeys would be escorted off the racetrack if they wore advertising on their clothes.

"If we will be escorted out of the racetrack, there will be no Kentucky Derby, put it that way," Velazquez said.

Bill Street, the chairman of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, did not return phone calls on Wednesday night. Street has limited his remarks in the past to a statement he put out after the lawsuit was filed saying that the authority would "deal severely with any challenge" to the rule.

Last year, the Kentucky Racing Commission, the precursor to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, fined 14 jockeys $500 each for wearing a patch signifying membership in the Jockeys' Guild, a trade union, during the Derby. The jockeys have appealed the fine in a case that is still pending.

Julie Koenig, a spokeswoman for Churchill Downs, said the track has not told jockeys that anyone would be escorted off the grounds if they defied the Kentucky rule.

Koenig did say that Churchill officials have advised jockeys that Churchill has several "house rules" for wearing advertisements. The rules include prohibitions on ads that Churchill would find "offensive" or "conflict with the image of the Churchill brand," or ads for companies that are in direct competition with Churchill or the companies that are sponsors of the Kentucky Derby.

"We have no problem with jockeys wearing ads, as long as they follow our rules," Koenig said.