02/12/2016 1:26PM

Jockeys' Guild focus on concussions

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The Jockeys’ Guild will kick off its annual assembly Tuesday with presentations focusing on safety issues and retirement planning, two topics that have gained prominence in the world of professional athletes over the past several years.

The assembly, which officially begins Monday night with a welcome reception at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Resort in Hollywood, Fla., is scheduled to run through Wednesday afternoon. The guild represents the interests of riders throughout the U.S. and runs the Permanently Disabled Jockeys’ Fund, which provides stipends to riders who have suffered debilitating injuries.

The opening-day panels include a presentation from Carl Mattacola, a University of Kentucky physiologist who specializes in athletic injuries and runs the rehabilitation sciences doctoral program at the school. Mattacola has been working for several years with the guild to establish protocols and tests to determine whether riders have suffered concussions.

For the past several years, the guild has been attempting to implement a program for annual baseline testing for riders so that it can more easily be determined if a jockey has suffered a concussion in a riding accident. The baseline testing would require riders to answer a series of questions each year so the results could be compared to answers provided after an accident.

According to Terry Meyocks, the national manager of the guild, those efforts have not yet been successful, in part because the guild has not been able to devise adequate tests for both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking riders. The guild also has not been able to get cooperation from the rest of the racing industry to ensure that all riders are administered the tests at least once a year.

“We need buy-in from the industry, and we haven’t gotten that yet,” Meyocks said several days before the assembly was to begin.

Mattacola will be followed by Paul Struthers, the executive director of the Professional Jockeys Association in Britain, who will touch on a variety of issues affecting riders in Europe, including safety issues, pensions, pay rates, and the scale of weights.

“We’re so far behind the rest of the world on a lot of those issues,” Meyocks said.

Struthers will also direct some of his remarks on how exchange wagering in Britain has affected riders, Meyocks said. The assembly will include a standalone presentation on exchange wagering on Wednesday featuring Mindy Coleman, the in-house counsel for the guild, and Tom Murray, its outside counsel.

Exchange wagering is legal in California and New Jersey, but only New Jersey has indicated it is ready to go forward on a launch of an exchange-wagering platform. Late last year, the New Jersey Racing Commission granted a license to Betfair for exchange wagering, and the platform is expected to go live this spring. Based in Britain, Betfair is the leading exchange-wagering company in the world, and it owns Television Games Network in the U.S.

Exchange-wagering platforms allow bettors to post prices on horses and accept bets from other customers of the platform. Because bettors can make money on horses who lose, the practice has led to investigations of race riding in other jurisdictions, along with lengthy suspensions when it has been proven that a rider was paid to hold a horse in a race.

The guild has raised concerns about exchange wagering because jockeys are likely to be targeted for criticism for losing rides, even in situations when they were not involved in any wrongdoing. Betfair has cooperated with investigations into suspicious betting in other jurisdictions and has vowed to alert New Jersey regulators to any suspicious activity on its platform after it is launched.

“We’re very concerned about [exchange wagering],” Meyocks said. “Integrity is very important to us.”