03/14/2006 1:00AM

Guild, racing officials continue talks


Officials of the Jockeys' Guild met with representatives of racetracks and horsemen's organizations on Tuesday at Gulfstream Park in Florida in the latest round of talks between the two sides on how to improve conditions for riders, participants in the talks said.

Attendees characterized the six hours of discussions as "cordial" and said that the talks did not represent negotiations on a new funding mechanism for the guild, which recently increased its membership dues and cut benefits to disabled riders because of ongoing financial difficulties. The groups that were represented at the meeting were the guild, Magna Entertainment Corp., Churchill Downs Inc., the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, along with several other racetrack officials.

"It wasn't a negotiation, per se," said Chris Scherf, the executive vice president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations. "But I don't know how I would characterize it. The best way would be to say that we are in talks about matters of concern to the jockeys and the industry."

Tuesday's meeting was the fourth since the guild voted to fire its president, L. Wayne Gertmenian, and sever its relationship with Gertmenian's consulting company, Matrix Capital Associates, in November of last year. Scherf said that as a result of the meeting, the guild and the racing industry may make an announcement within the next two weeks on "a matter of concern" to the guild, but Scherf declined to provide any specifics. The groups plan to meet again on March 23.

The TRA is a racetrack trade group whose members made annual payments to the guild of approximately $2.2 million under a contract that expired in 2002. The TRA tracks continued to make payments until 2005, when many tracks began increasing accident insurance coverage for riders to $1 million in medical bills. Until the upgrade, most tracks carried policies of up to $100,000 in coverage. Scherf said that a resumption of the payments has not been discussed.

Tom Kennedy, an attorney for the guild, declined to provide any details about the nature of the discussions, citing "sensitive financial details."

"There are obviously a lot of things on the table," said Kennedy, who resigned when Gertmenian was hired in 2001 but recently agreed to represent the guild again. "We've had some encouraging dialogue, and it would not be furthered by having a discussion in the press. But I think we will have something of substance to announce" on March 23.

Guild members at the meeting included jockeys John Velazquez, the guild's chairman; Mark Guidry, the guild's vice chairman; and Jerry LaSala, a director.

John Roark, the president of the National Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said that the discussions on Tuesday focused on three issues: the care of disabled jockeys administered by the guild, family health insurance for riders, and jockeys' disability payments.

"We didn't come up with any solutions, but we had a very productive and informative meeting," Roark said. "I think the one big subject that everyone agreed on is that we need to find a way to care for these disabled jockeys, and I think that's something the industry can solve right now."