01/20/2015 1:28PM

Advances in jockey safety hailed

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HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – The progress made in the five years since the founding of the Safety and Integrity Alliance of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association was spotlighted Tuesday morning during the second day of meetings at the Jockeys’ Guild annual members’ assembly at the Diplomat Resort here.

Mike Ziegler, executive director for the alliance, presented the assembly with detailed information on how the NTRA has fostered a new culture among 23 accredited racetracks that has improved the safety and well-being of jockeys, among other industry improvements.

“This stuff isn’t done in a vacuum,” said Ziegler, who after this week will leave the NTRA to become executive director of racing at Churchill Downs Inc. “If you guys can think of anything that can be done to help improve safety and integrity, please speak up.

“If your track isn’t accredited, ask management why they aren’t. We also need to hear if things are falling out of compliance. Having more eyeballs looking out for your safety is good for everyone.”

A busy Tuesday session began with Tom Kennedy, general counsel for the guild, updating members on the status of negotiations in regard to contribution agreements with various tracks. Kennedy expressed particular satisfaction with the guild’s newly signed three-year contract with Stronach Group tracks and optimism about pending talks with the New York Racing Association, Churchill Downs, and other track managements. Kennedy also described how Turf Paradise has increased its catastrophic insurance coverage from $500,000 to $1 million in the aftermath of the serious accident involving Anne Von Rosen last year.

Kennedy and in-house counsel Mindy Coleman also updated the membership on other legal topics, including court proceedings involving cases stemming from Tampa Bay Downs and Charles Town.

Among other business, the assembly heard updates from four regional managers, including Western regional manager Darrell Haire, who addressed the new whip restrictions soon to come into effect in California. The California Horse Racing Board passed a rule in November limiting a jockey to three consecutive strikes with a whip before they must pause to allow a horse to respond.

“I didn’t feel like we had a problem in California,” Haire said. “They asked [the guild] to participate in coming up with something that works, and we’re satisfied with what we’ll have.”

Herb Rivera Jr., East Coast regional manager, detailed numerous problems for riders at Parx Racing and Penn National Gaming tracks while noting guild membership has increased substantially at Parx within the last year.

Jeff Johnston, Midwest regional manager, related a number of problems the guild is encountering in several jurisdictions, including Minnesota and Illinois. He also said the guild is trying to convince the Kentucky division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association to raise mount fees at state tracks.

Assembly attendees also were given a primer on exchange wagering by Curtis Linnell, a wagering analyst with the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau. Linnell said jockeys need to be cognizant of exchange wagering on North American racing through such offshore companies as Betfair and that considerable debate exists about whether it “heightens the profit motive that encourages impropriety.”

Linnell said betting on every race at all 41 tracks overseen by the TRPB is closely analyzed afterward for unusual patterns, including exchange wagering. He cited a particular case involving Thistledown that prompted a TRPB investigation that ultimately found big bettors in Asian exchanges were manipulating the win pools. Linnell said jockeys can alert the TRPB to suspicious activity through an anonymous tip line.

“Wagering tells us things,” Linnell said. “There’s a lot of volume going through these exchanges.”

Linnell was followed by Remington Park president Scott Wells, who illustrated the importance of jockeys in promoting the sport by showing light-hearted television commercials for Remington.

“You guys are the greatest asset the sport of horse racing has,” Wells said. “In many cases, you are local legends. You have star power. Gary Stevens was a star in Idaho before he was a star in Seabiscuit.”

Close to 100 jockeys and affiliates were in attendance during the assembly, which opened Sunday night with a reception and concluded Tuesday afternoon.

An awards dinner was held Monday night at nearby Gulfstream Park, with Von Rosen and Michael Straight being honored with Jockeys’ Guild Courage Awards.

Elections for guild officers were to be held in closed session Tuesday afternoon following presentations on safety equipment by Joe Carr, a representative with Duralock in England, and Bryan Shaffer, an operations specialist with Chesapeake Testing in Maryland.