06/12/2007 11:00PM

Horsemen oppose higher fees for jockeys


CHICAGO - Jockeys at Arlington Park are seeking an increase in fees paid to riders on losing horses, but face opposition from within the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

A meeting among jockeys, ITHA members, and Arlington representatives took place on Tuesday, and the jockey pay-increase situation was discussed at an ITHA general membership meeting Wednesday. But the movement to raise the pay scale for riders has been ongoing since last August, according to Jeff Johnson, a former jockey and the Midwest region manager of the Jockeys' Guild. Johnson said riders in Chicago had come to the forefront of the movement because there is no Illinois law mandating jockey fees.

An ITHA committee and a group of riders actually agreed upon a proposed framework for adjusting fees, but the ITHA leadership has declined to support the proposed pay scale. Riders of fourth- and fifth-place finishers, currently paid the same losing mount fees as any horse finishing worse than third, would get 2opercent of purse earnings; and, losing mount fees would be increased by $30, from $45 to $75.

"We tried but failed to get the support of a large enough number of owners," said trainer Christine Janks, a board member who was part of the committee.

The ITHA cannot regulate the fees paid to jockeys, but Janks said the idea had been to get "a lot of the horsemen to agree on some sort of moderate increase" in order to smooth the negotiating progress.

The Illinois Racing Board has in the past declined to involve itself in the fee issue, and riders, as independent contractors, appear to have the power to set their own pay scale in Illinois. Johnson said the guild members were intent on pushing through the increase to benefit older and less successful riders. He also tied the issue to the lingering question of racetracks providing health benefits to jockeys.

"We're either independent contractors free to charge what we're worth, or we're employees and we'll ask for other benefits," Johnson said.

Johnson said the guild was in the process of "retaining a lawyer in Illinois to collect our mount fees going forward."

Caruso faces obstacles in first start vs. older

No horse of Caruso's own generation - the class of 2004 - has beaten him in a one-turn race, but in Friday's seven-furlong Zen Stakes, Caruso faces older horses for the first time in his career.

Caruso, 5 for 6 and unbeaten in one-turn starts, was one of seven horses entered in the Zen, a $45,000 overnight stakes restricted to Illinois-breds. The field will be reduced by at least one, since trainer Christine Janks said Mighty Rule will be scratched.

Caruso debuted last July at Arlington with a six-length win, and he won his first three starts by 19 lengths combined. Caruso finished second in the 1 1/16-mile Jim Edgar Futurity in his final start at 2, but has bounced back this season with two more comfortable sprint victories. He has been away since April 28, has never raced on Polytrack, and has not yet won at a distance greater than six furlongs.

All those issues might be workable, but Caruso also faces a salty cast. Guccione and Last Gran Standing figure to force the early pace, and Caruso is a very speedy kind of horse. Waiting to pounce late is the Janks-trained High Expectations, who won this race last year by four lengths. High Expectations finished sixth of 10 in the Grade 3 Hanshin Cup on May 26, but raced against a speed bias, and might have faced an uphill climb in any case.

"I was hoping he was good enough, but he's probably a notch below those," Janks said.

Beware of Bluesbdancing in Chicago BC

Eleven horses were entered Wednesday in Saturday's Grade 3 Chicago Breeders' Cup Handicap, though trainer Patrick Biancone told Arlington racing officials he probably would scratch one of his two entrants, Trick's Pic and Travel Team.

Favoritism in the seven-furlong Chicago BC should fall to one of three horses: Victorina, Cuaba, or Trendy Lady. Victorina invades from Northern California for trainer Greg Gilchrist, Cuaba from Churchill for Bill Mott. Trendy Lady has been prepping for this start as part of Todd Pletcher's Arlington string.

Handicappers should not overlook Bluesbdancing the way most did in her last start, a 12-1 upset of the May 19 Fit For a Queen, the Chicago BC prep. Bluesbdancing, an Illinois-bred winner in 10 of 19 starts, was dismissed at those odds because she had run poorly in her previous start, an Illinois-bred stakes at Hawthorne. But Bluesbdancing has thrown in the occasional clunker under similar circumstances before.

"Every unexplainable race she's had has been at Hawthorne," trainer Terrel Gore said, "and there's something about that track sometimes she doesn't like, is all I can say. The first couple times, I said, 'What the heck's going on? Is she hurt, or what?' When she ran bad over there last time, it didn't even surprise me, really."