04/25/2008 11:00PM

Jockeys receive higher mount fee


STICKNEY, Ill. - Jockeys at Hawthorne succeeded in raising the fee paid to riders for merely participating in a race after intense negotiations here at Hawthorne on Friday, and racing went off without a hitch Saturday after negotiations between jockeys and horsemen caused a two-hour delay in starting Friday's card.

The issue of the base mount fee bubbled up last June at Arlington, receded into the background, and boiled over again this week. Friday's first race was scheduled for 3 p.m., but went off shortly before 5 when riders insisted they would not participate unless horse owners agreed to pay a $75 fee to jockeys whose mounts finish worse than fifth. Previously, riders on fourth- and fifth-place finishers were paid a base mount fee only, but they will now receive 2 percent of the horse's earnings in the race.

As of Saturday, jockeys were presenting horse owners with a contract upon arriving in the paddock before a particular race. If the owners agreed to pay the new fees, the jockey would ride; if not, the jockey would decline to ride, according to jockey Jerry LaSala, a local representative of the Jockeys' Guild. If all riders in the colony adhere to the new fee schedule, the horse would have to be scratched.

State steward Eddie Arroyo said that jockeys who declined to ride would not be punished for failing to honor their calls.

The $75 fee represents a $30 raise over the $45 base mount fee jockeys have been paid for more than 20 years. The issue of how to increase the fee has led to rancor between some riders and some members of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, in great part because there are no strict rules in Illinois defining how much riders are to be paid.

Some states mandate mount fees, but not Illinois. And while Illinois Racing Board executive director Marc Laino has tried to mediate the dispute, Laino said that the IRB has no authority to set fees.

"The riders and the horsemen have been operating since 1985 with this informal understanding of what the base fees are," Laino said.

Jockeys regularly file mount-fee reports with the horsemen's bookkeeper, who then disburses the appropriate funds from the purse account to the riders. While riders began billing on the new fee schedule Friday, those funds have yet to be paid, and disagreements between activist jockeys and the leadership of the ITHA may not be fully settled yet.

ITHA president Frank Kirby declined to comment on his organization's position because the issue was ongoing. The ITHA and riders have periodically feuded and negotiated over the mount fee issue for more than a year. A lawsuit filed by riders trying to force a fee hike was dropped last October.

Jockeys' Guild national manager Terry Meyocks was at Hawthorne supporting the riders on Saturday, but Meyocks said that the actions here were being undertaken by individual riders acting as independent contractors. The $45 base mount fee here does lag behind other jurisdictions. New York raised such fees this month to $100, Meyocks said.

Racing shifts to Arlington on Friday. Arlington is part of Churchill Downs Inc., with whom the Jockeys' Guild has a no-strike contract. But, if local riders are acting as individual contractors, as they now contend, their actions this week may not constitute a strike.