03/04/2005 1:00AM

Churchill contends tapes show Jockeys' Guild planned boycott


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Officials at Churchill Downs Inc. released on Friday audio tapes and transcripts of a telephone conference call from last November that they contend shows officials and members of the Jockeys' Guild conspiring to stage boycotts at Churchill tracks.

A transcript, which covers 42 pages and includes a detailed index, was made available to the news media one day after Churchill filed a lawsuit against the Guild in a Louisville federal court. The suit seeks an injunction preventing the Guild from future boycotts and seeks unspecified damages for violation of antitrust laws. Churchill contends that since the jockeys are independent contractors, they are precluded from boycotting or disrupting Churchill's business.

Guild officials have steadfastly denied that they orchestrated the boycotts. Fiss said Thursday that the suit is "a mistake on Churchill's part. There was no orchestration by the Guild of those events that occurred."

Julie Koenig Loignon, Churchill's director of communications, declined to identify who had taped the conference call but said it was "someone who was invited, or had access to, the teleconference." The call, she said, took place the evening of Nov. 7. She said the tape was provided to Churchill "by someone in the industry" but that she had not been provided with the name of the person. She added that the person who taped the conversation did so legally.

The transcript covers a lengthy meeting of the Guild's Senate, or governing body, and involved virtually all of the Guild's top officials, including president L. Wayne Gertmenian and vice president Albert Fiss. About 30 other Guild members, mostly active jockeys, were on the call.

At one point in the call, when the conversation turned to former jockey Shane Sellers and his forced exit from Churchill Downs, Gertmenian is quoted as saying:

"It's extremely important that everybody spend . . . if you're going to get involved, then don't come into it half-cocked. Make sure you spend the time, like Brian [Peck] did, like Robby Albarado did, like Jeff Johnston did, like Mark Guidry did. They spent the time with me and with the lawyers and with Albert [Fiss] so that everybody understands. Maybe you don't understand why we're telling you do to something, but you understand exactly what we're telling you to do, and then you go do it.

"Now we're going to create a monstrous problem for them."

After the call, some jockeys - including Peck, Albarado, Johnston, and Guidry - refused to ride the next day of live racing at Churchill, on Wednesday, Nov. 10. Racing was not disrupted, but two nights later, jockeys refused to ride at another Churchill track, Hoosier Park in Indiana, forcing cancellation of a 12-race card. Jockeys who boycotted said they were trying to bring attention to the issue of insurance coverage by the tracks, which they maintain has been inadequate.

CDI's chief operating officer Andrew Skehan said on Thursday that the lawsuit was served partly as a means to insure that similar boycott activities would not disrupt the 131st Kentucky Derby on May 7. The call is referenced in the 22-page suit.