11/11/2004 12:00AM

Banned jockeys can ride at other Churchill tracks

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs Inc. has eased its position on the 14 riders who have been banned from its flagship racetrack during the ongoing jockey-insurance dispute, saying it will conditionally allow those riders to compete at other company-owned racetracks.

In an announcement made late Wednesday, CDI director of communications Julie Koenig-Loignon said that "for the sake of uniformity" the jockeys would be permitted to ride at Calder, Hoosier, Fair Grounds, and Hollywood Park, provided they first meet with the track president of their chosen track and give assurances that they do not intend "to disrupt our business."

The jockeys were banned Sunday by Churchill president Steve Sexton for refusing to ride here Wednesday or Thursday. Because only a few days had passed since then, apparently none of the 14 had yet tried to ride at any of the company's other tracks. Initially, Churchill had announced that the ban, which extends through the end of the Churchill meet on Nov. 27, would apply to Calder and Hoosier, but because of regulatory complications in their respective states, CDI was unable to have it applied at Fair Grounds in Louisiana and Hollywood in California.

"We wanted to take an approach that would be consistent companywide," said Koenig-Loignon.

One of the banned riders, Willie Martinez, said the announcement does not figure to dramatically alter plans for most of the 14.

"My home is Kentucky, and I'm going to ride at Turfway Park next," said Martinez. Turfway opens Nov. 28.

On a wet and dreary Thursday, the second day of the ban at Churchill, jockey Bill Troilo rode two winners over a sloppy track, easing what he described as "very torn feelings" about the current situation.

After lengthy consideration, Troilo, 43, declined to join the jockeys who held out, despite his many years of regional leadership within The Jockeys' Guild, the organization that supports the unofficial boycott that resulted in the bans. Moreover, Troilo, a veteran of nearly 23 years, said he has been close friends for 20 years with Tony D'Amico, whose injuries in a recent Churchill spill partly spurred the jockeys' protest action, and for 15 years with Eddie Zuniga, one of the 14 holdouts.

"I'm very upset about it, because it's not just a business decision, but a personal decision," said Troilo. "Sometimes in this game, you have to do what's best for yourself. The guys who are out, they're taking a lot of flak. I don't know what to do and I don't know what to say for them."

In other Thursday action, Tammy Fox and Angela Owens swept the early daily double with Enjoythe Afternoon and Quote Me Later, respectively. Both had been working primarily as morning exercise riders before the jockey ban.

Otherwise, the program progressed uneventfully, with mostly favorites winning under jockeys who have been riding regularly here, including Pat Day, Brice Blanc, Brian Hernandez Jr., Larry Melancon, and Eddie Martin Jr.

It is difficult to gauge how the boycott has affected business. Initial reports from Churchill were that all-sources handle on Wednesday was up sizably over the comparable day from 2003, but a $140,000 pick six carryover was up for grabs Wednesday. Ontrack attendance was down marginally Wednesday, even with terrific weather and a night football game for the University of Louisville at nearby Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

Figures were not available for Thursday's card.

As the first two days have unfolded without top jockeys such as Rafael Bejarano, Robby Albarado, and Mark Guidry, many fans have said their wagering habits have been mostly unaffected. Doug Glass, a horse owner and everyday horseplayer, said he hasn't changed a thing.

"I'm sympathetic to the jocks, but mostly I'm in support of Churchill because I think what Steve Sexton did was exactly the right thing," Glass said. "The jocks tried to shut the place down at a moment's notice, and that's just not right."

At issue for the jockeys is the amount of accident insurance coverage that Churchill and some other racetracks are willing to provide. Churchill and other Kentucky tracks currently provide $100,000 in medical coverage in case of an accident, but the jockeys say they need a major increase. Sexton has maintained that insurance is an industrywide issue and does not pertain solely to Churchill. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association said earlier this week that it is forming a panel to explore the issue.