01/15/2009 12:00AM

Florida riders get a raise


Jockeys riding at Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course will receive a minimum of $75 as a fee from owners for losing mounts under a new agreement between the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the Jockeys' Guild. The agreement was announced on Thursday, the day the new mount fees went into effect.

Previously, the losing mount fees at Calder and Gulfstream started at $55 and $65, respectively.

The new mount fee schedule is graded by the purse offered in a race, with losing mount fees increasing as purses increase. The maximum losing mount fee is $105. Jockeys whose horses finish in the top three receive a percentage of the purse, rather than a losing mount fee.

The Jockeys' Guild has been pushing for an increase in losing mount fees in most racing states for the past year in an effort to address the financial concerns of many of its members. The effort has led to increased mount fees in eight states, including California, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York.

The Guild, which is operating under a reorganization plan approved by a U.S. bankruptcy court in Kentucky, has struggled with financial problems for the past several years. As a result, the organization has had to cut back on the benefits it provides riders. Mount-fee increases flow directly to a rider and do not benefit the guild, though the guild charges membership fees on a per-mount basis.

Guild representatives contend that an increase in per-mount fees would most significantly benefit the lower tier of riders. According to figures provided by the organization, approximately 50 percent of all purse earnings are won by 10 percent of all riders, and 75 percent of all purse earnings are won by 30 percent of all riders. As a result, the majority of riders depend on mount fees for their earnings.

For the past several months, representatives of the guild have been talking with the Kentucky HBPA about adopting a new pay schedule for losing mounts at Kentucky's tracks, but talks between the two organizations have failed to produce a deal that the Kentucky horsemen are willing to support, according to the guild representatives.

The Kentucky horsemen's group has said that it will not endorse a new schedule because of a law in Kentucky that gives the Kentucky Racing Commission the discretion to set losing mount fees. That law includes language that provides an exception if jockeys are able to reach individual agreements with owners.

"The HBPA has no authority to agree on behalf of its members to mount fees," said Bob Benson, the legal counsel to the Kentucky horsemen's group. "The appropriate place for them to take that up is with the commission."

Lisa Underwood, the executive director of the Kentucky Racing Commission, said on Thursday that she had received materials from the guild asking for an increase in mount fees in Kentucky. Underwood said that she has forwarded the materials to the commission's rules committee, which will likely begin discussing the proposal next week.

"I think the sooner we get to this the better," Underwood said.