11/22/2004 1:00AM

Insurance solutions sought


FLORENCE, Ky. - A six-member committee of industry representatives and legal and insurance consultants has been appointed to find solutions to the problem of adequate and affordable accident insurance coverage for jockeys. The committee was appointed by a task force formed by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which met Monday at Turfway Park.

The committee, chaired by Greg Avioli, the president of the NTRA, is scheduled to report its recommendations to the NTRA task force by the end of the year, according to D.G. Van Clief, the commissioner of the NTRA, who spoke after the meeting.

The 30-member task force met for six hours and had two representatives from the Jockeys' Guild, including the Guild's president, L. Wayne Gertmenian. Eight members of the task force participated by phone.

Van Clief said the committee was formed after the task force agreed on three principles: that jockeys are independent contractors, that present catastrophic insurance policies covering jockeys for up to $100,000 in medical bills are "not sufficient," and that all members of the industry would be willing to contribute to the solution.

"There was the consensus that this is an industry-wide problem and that there should be and would be a shared solution," Van Clief said.

Most jockeys are covered by policies purchased through individual racetracks. Previously, riders were covered for up to $1 million through a supplemental insurance policy purchased by the Jockeys' Guild, which claims 1,250 riders as members, but that policy was allowed to lapse in 2002.

The six-member committee will include Avioli; John Unick of Marovich, O'Shea, and Coughlin; John Milward of Palmer and Kay; Jack Knowlton, the managing partner of Sackatoga Stable and an insurance executive; Tony Byergo, a labor-law expert retained by the NTRA; and Andrew Satniusz, a Magna Entertainment executive whose speciality is labor law.

The committee is expected to offer a list of recommendations by Dec. 31, Van Clief said. The recommendations will be presented to the entire task force, with the expectation that the industry will adopt one or more and begin working to implement the programs.

Van Clief said that while the industry had agreed that $100,000 in insurance was inadequate, no maximum has been set. He said the task force generally agreed that $1 million in coverage would be acceptable.

The committee is expected to focus on workers' compensation programs, which currently cover jockeys in five states, although Van Clief said that implementing similar programs in all racing states would be a "laborious and time-consuming process."

"The goal is to arrive at an insurance facility that will provide jockeys with protection on the track that is portable, that they can carry around with them as they travel to tracks," Van Clief said. The task force will only consider plans to cover accidents on the track, and not overall health insurance for jockeys, Van Clief said.

The task force was formed in the wake of two disruptions earlier this month at Churchill Downs and Hoosier Park in which 14 jockeys at each track were banned after they refused to ride, citing safety and insurance concerns.

Gertmenian was a late addition to the task force. He asked to be included Saturday, according to task force officials. Gertmenian declined to comment after the meeting, as did the other Guild representative, Darrell Haire.

Later, Gertmenian told The Blood-Horse that he did not provide any proposals on insurance at the meeting. "That would have been presumptuous of me when people at the meeting were trying to identify the problem," Gertmenian said.

Gertmenian, whose company, Matrix Capital Associates, took over management of the Guild in 2001, has become a polarizing figure in the debate over jockeys' insurance, as much for his personal style as for his insistence that racetracks should pay for all the accident insurance premiums.

Some jockeys have called for an independent audit of the Guild's finances because of concern over how the Guild has managed annual payments of $2.2 million from the racetracks. A check of Gertmenian's resume has raised questions about his qualifications. Little or no evidence could be found that he served in an important role in the Nixon and Ford administrations, a key claim in his resume.

The task force had initially asked Haire to serve on the committee as the Guild's representative. When asked why Gertmenian was allowed to participate, Van Clief said, "We want to make this as ecumenical as we can. We're not being terribly strict. If an organization wants to send two delegates rather than one, we're not going to have a problem with that."

Members of the task force described the meeting as collegial.

"We tried to keep the conversation on the legal and technical issues and steer it away from any of the more controversial topics," Van Clief said.