01/31/2013 4:35PM

Jockeys' Guild calls out tracks not contributing to its programs


The Jockeys’ Guild has embarked on a campaign to put pressure on the racing industry by releasing a list of the “top ten” racetracks that it says do not currently contribute to its funding.

The guild used the derogatory though not obscene term “deadbeats” to refer to the tracks, most of which are owned and operated by casino companies. The guild released the list following its annual meeting, during which the guild said it would explore ways to get more racetracks to contribute money to the organization’s programs, which include health insurance for members and their families and payments to disabled riders.

“Legislators, regulators, and the public all need to know that these tracks are shirking their responsibilities,” said Terry Meyocks, the guild’s national manager, in a statement accompanying the list.

Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns five racetracks in five states, was placed at the top of the list. Chris McErlean, Penn National’s vice president of racing, said he was “disappointed in the tone and the accusations on the list” and then sharply disputed the guild’s contention in the release that the company was “insensitive to jockey health and safety issues.”

McErlean said that Penn Gaming spent $1.2 million last year for insurance coverage for jockeys at its racetracks and claimed that the premiums for the policies increased 30 percent last year. The policies cover as much as $1 million in medical expenses and claims. He also said that each of Penn Gaming’s tracks contributed to the guild’s Permanently Disabled Jockeys’ Fund through various fundraisers and that riders at the company’s Pennsylvania track are eligible for a health-insurance plan funded by casino revenues.

McErlean also said that the company disagreed philosophically that racetracks have a responsibility to pay for health-insurance benefits for jockeys, saying riders, as independent contractors, should be responsible for their own health care.

“They are employed by owners and trainers,” McErlean said. “We don’t tell them where to ride, or when to ride.”

Monmouth Park in New Jersey also was put on the list. The statement said that Monmouth stopped contributing directly to the guild last year, after the state’s Thoroughbred horsemen reached an agreement to lease the track from the state.

Dennis Drazin, the head of the group leasing the track, disputed the guild’s claim, saying that Monmouth provides accident insurance for riders and that the guild had come to the track last year seeking additional payments to provide health insurance to its members. Drazin said that they resisted making the payments because the benefits would not directly flow to New Jersey riders.

“We’ll take it in stride,” Drazin said. “But maybe the next time the guild comes in here wanting to talk with us they are going to get a less-than-warm reception.”

Currently, many racing companies provide annual funding to the guild through payments based on handle and number of racing days. The companies include Churchill Downs Inc., the New York Racing Association, and the Stronach Group. The Guild created a separate list for those companies, calling them the “Good Guys.”