01/19/2015 1:01PM

Head injuries a focus at Jockeys' Guild meeting

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HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – The importance of evaluating and managing jockeys’ head injuries and concussions was among the major topics addressed Monday morning during the opening session of the Jockeys’ Guild annual members’ assembly at the Diplomat Resort here.

Dr. Mark Lovell, an internationally recognized concussion expert, addressed the group at length with the goals of “imparting an understanding of what a concussion is,” while broadening awareness among jockeys about what precautions must be taken.

Lovell, who has worked with professional athletes for about 25 years and is a founding director of the Sports Concussion Program at the University of Pittsburgh, informed the assembly that new sensory jockey helmets will soon be available and that the racing industry would be well served by implementing the “ImPACT” protocol for concussion diagnosis and treatment already being used in other major sports leagues such as the National Football League and Major League Baseball. Such testing methods are not yet mandatory in American racing, although a handful of tracks have begun using them voluntarily through funding from The Jockey Club.

Earlier, guild president John Velazquez opened the assembly by recognizing this year as the 75th anniversary of the founding of the guild, which provides a wide variety of services to jockeys, including working closely with racetracks in establishing safety standards and administrating the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

“There is still a lot of work to do,” said Velazquez, adding that the October death of apprentice Juan Saez in a riding accident in Indiana serves as “a tragic reminder” of the need for stringent safety standards for all riders.

Guild national manager Terry Meyocks presented a review of the guild’s history and an overview of current business while noting that membership has increased by 47 percent since 2007 and now consists of 1,269 active, retired, and disabled jockeys. Dues are $100 per year and $4 per mount.

Meyocks addressed the Saez death by saying: “We all know being a jockey is a dangerous profession, but even one death is one too many.”

Meyocks emphasized the need for permanent industry funding for the PDJF, lamenting the fact that 61 disabled jockeys under its care receive only about $1,000 per month.

Retired jockey Ramon Dominguez eloquently addressed the group about the chronic funding problem. “We have to come up with a solution where we don’t have to be begging or looking for donations all the time,” he said.

Nancy LaSala, executive director of the PDJF, told the group during a lengthy presentation that she is “very concerned” about the lack of an established funding mechanism and that current funding levels do not provide sufficient long-term security for disabled riders. One initiative under way, she noted, is that jockeys at 26 tracks already are being asked to donate $1 per mount to the PDJF under the “$1 start” program.

“One of our goals is to work with industry partners to provide greater security for the PDJF,” she added, noting that the guild is pushing to have the “$1 start” program extended to other aspects of the industry. She also talked extensively about the importance of social-media efforts in raising funds.

Without further funding, the PDJF would run dry in about 15 months, LaSala said, adding that “we’re extremely grateful” for private donations of more than $1.4 million by noted Kentucky horseman Will Farish, foremost among numerous private contributors.

Meyocks said the guild will undertake two notable initiatives later this year: a celebration of the guild’s 75th anniversary at racetracks across the United States on Aug. 1, and September being dedicated to jockeys visiting children’s cancer facilities. Also, LaSala said another “PDJF Across America Day” is being planned for this year.

Among the other Monday speakers was Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen, who detailed the existence of a new website, JockeyTalk360.com, which endeavors to heighten awareness of jockeys through social media. Johnsen likened the key entities in racing to a three-legged stool – horsemen, tracks, and fans – while focusing on a particular need to promote the work of jockeys.

Close to 100 jockeys and affiliates were in attendance Monday, including retired riding greats Laffit Pincay Jr., Pat Day, and Chris McCarron. The assembly opened Sunday night with a reception and was to conclude Tuesday afternoon.