06/23/2009 11:00PM

Insurance woes have Standridge on the sidelines


MIAMI - Steve Standridge has been training horses for 23 years, the majority of them in south Florida. During that period, Standridge recorded 573 victories, 25 in stakes races, and won purses totaling more than $10.6 million.

But now Standridge is, at least temporarily, out of business, not of his own volition but as a result of a problem that continues to trouble horsemen throughout the country: workers' compensation.

"I had three accidents over the last two years, my insurance company canceled my policy, and nobody else will touch me," Standridge said. "The ironic part is I've probably had four claims over the last 20 years, but because I've had three in such close order nobody will insure me, which is typical of insurance companies anyway. They want you to pay and pay and then you have a claim and suddenly they don't want to play any more."

Standridge has transferred all his horses to Peter Guylas, a former assistant, who recently returned to the area after spending time working for trainers Ian Wilkes and Carl Nafzger in Kentucky. Among the group Standridge gave to Guylas is Grade 2 winner Mach Ride, who recently returned to training after being sidelined more than a year recuperating from foot injuries.

"I can't tell you how many companies I've tried to get to cover me since my original policy was canceled," Standridge said. "I even tried the leasing companies, but once they look up your record they won't have anything to do with you either. I'm sticking around here at the moment in an advisory capacity to Peter. Especially with Mach Ride back in training."

Standridge's best hope of getting workers' compensation now lies with the Florida Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association. The local horseman's group is presently trying to work out a blanket workers' compensation plan that would cover the entire backside in one policy. Similar policies are in place in California and Delaware.

Worker's comp has been a major issue and stumbling block for local horsemen for more than a decade. The difficulty in getting coverage increased after a catastrophic claim by an exercise rider here last fall, the result of a near-fatal training-hours accident.

"The problem right now is that underwriters just don't want to take on individual policies," said Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida horsemen's association. "Many of our people have been getting canceled and are forced to take state-funded insurance. The state has to take them, but the costs are prohibitive."

Stirling said he has been working for some time with representatives from the California-based firm of Marovich, O'Shea and Coglan - the same company that helped put together the current workers' compensation programs in California and Delaware - with the hope of being able ultimately to institute a similar arrangement in south Florida.

"We've provided them with a lot of data going back 10 years regarding number of starts, average payrolls, etc., not only for Calder but all south Florida Thoroughbred tracks," Stirling said. "Our goal is to have one workman's compensation policy that would be administered on the basis of stalls allotted. If a trainer doesn't pay their share of the policy, they lose their stalls. Unfortunately with the state of the economy the way it is, this could take quite a while to come to fruition. We're at least hopeful of being able to put together something in the short term to at least relieve some of the pressure. But even that may take until the end of the year."

Whether help will come soon enough for Standridge remains to be seen.

"After 23 years, this certainly wasn't the way I wanted to get out of the business," Standridge said. "When the time finally comes, you'd like to be getting out on your own terms."

Mach Ride looking good

Standridge said Mach Ride, winner of Calder's Grade 2 Smile Handicap in 2007, is progressing nicely towards his return.

"His feet look awesome, he had his first work last week, and if all goes well he could be ready to run by the end of July," Standridge said. "I don't see why he cannot come back as good as he was before getting the time off. Right now he's the main reason I'm still trying to keep my foot in the door."