10/21/2004 11:00PM

A crisis of sorts brewing in jockeys' room

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Friction has been developing between Hastings management and some of the 13 jockeys that make up the current local colony, and last week several horses had to be scratched as a result. Amazingly, one of the most contentious issues between the two parties revolves around beer in the jockeys' room.

In many racetracks across North America, riders are allowed to enjoy a cold beer among themselves after a hard day of riding. Up until a few weeks ago, jockeys were allowed that privilege at Hastings. When track management rescinded that privilege, it didn't sit well with some of the riders at Hastings, particularly Chris Loseth, who is one of the local Jockeys' Guild representatives. It all came to a head when Frank Fuentes booked off of his last two mounts at Hastings on Sunday and Loseth was asked to pick up the mount on James Creek in the ninth race. Trying to make a point, he told track officials that he would be happy to pick up the mount if they would show their appreciation by sending some beer to the jocks' room after the races. Not surprisingly, they said no, and since there weren't any other jockeys willing to pick up the mount, the horse was scratched. In the 10th race, two other horses had to be scratched as well.

"I wasn't representing anyone but myself," said Loseth. "There's been no group decision about anything. This was my own decision. I just don't see why we can't have a beer after the races are over. It's nice to unwind and watch the replays together, and we've doing if for a long time without any incidents."

Guaranteed pay also an issue

Beer isn't the only reason why Loseth is upset with management. For quite a few years, a shortage of riders has caused problems at Hastings, and last week wasn't the first time a horse was scratched because there wasn't a rider available. Last year, Woodbine Entertainment Inc., which owned Hastings at the time, put up a total of $50,000 to encourage jockeys to stay until the end of the meet and also to pick up any open horses. The $50,000 was to be divided by the 13 riders who agreed to this.

According to Loseth, Woodbine wasn't sure if it was going to have the full $50,000 in its budget, so it promised to pay whatever the shortfall was in 2004, plus an additional $13,000. Woodbine did manage to come up with the $50,000 last year, but also said it would live up to its promise of another $13,000 when the jockeys came back this year. When the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and Peter Wall bought Hastings this spring, the $13,000 seemed to get lost in the shuffle.

Michael Brown, who took over as CEO at Hastings in mid-summer and is still getting his feet wet, wants to resolve the issues as soon as possible.

"I wasn't aware of the money issue, but I'm certainly willing to look into it," he said. "As for the beer, it's a new era, and we're headed in a new direction. Integrity and perception is very important to us, and we have to show the public that we are a responsible gaming operator. I also understand how valuable the jockeys are to our business, so I'm planning to meet with Chris to try and work things out. But it's certainly not going to be like it was in the past with jockeys bringing in their own beer."

Earl Blain, who trains James Creek, who was scratched, took it all in stride.

"I was disappointed he didn't get to run," said Blain, "and the owners weren't happy, because they had come a long way to see him run. I'm just hoping this can get resolved so it doesn't happen again. But Chris was very nice about it. He apologized and was a real gentleman, so I'm not going to hold any grudges."

There doesn't seem to be any particular standard in the industry regarding beer in the jocks' room.

According to Chris Evans, director of racing at Woodbine, jockeys are sent beer following the races on weekends only.

Beer was recently banned in the jocks' room at Bay Meadows. Up until the start of the current meet there, the jockey who won the stakes race that day usually bought beer for the room.

Colony of 13 for the duration

Frank Fuentes not only booked off his last two mounts Sunday, but according to his agent, Mike Heads, he is hanging it up for the rest of the year.

That leaves just 13 riders available at Hastings, which is the real issue here. The rider shortage will likely be a problem until the meet ends Nov. 28, but with more racing days and a substantial purse increase on the horizon because of slot-machine revenue, the problem will probably disappear on its own.