02/16/2004 1:00AM

Kentucky suspends helmet rule


The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority on Monday voted to suspend a regulation that in recent years has forced jockeys in Kentucky to wear helmets that have proved highly unpopular with the jockeys themselves.

At an authority meeting in Lexington, Ky., Darrell Haire, national member representative of The Jockeys' Guild, told the authority that the vast majority of jockeys long have had issues with the safety and comfort of the so-called Lexington-style helmets, which became mandatory in Kentucky several years ago.

Pending further study, the authority agreed to suspend mandatory usage of the helmets in favor of Caliente-style helmets, the predominant brand in use at tracks throughout North America.

Kentucky is the only U.S. jurisdiction to mandate helmets ascribing to safety standards set forth by the American Society for Testing Materials, but Jason Lumpkins - one of about 10 jockeys from Turfway Park to accompany Haire to the meeting - told the authority that the helmets are impractical and have caused problems for him and other jockeys.

"When riders leave Kentucky, they don't use these models," Lumpkins said, holding a Lexington helmet.

In other business, the authority:

* Was informed by its interim executive director, Jesse Skees, that an investigation by the state's office of the Inspector General into the Feb. 4 incident that led to the death of jockey Mike Rowland at Turfway is still ongoing.

* Approved hiring a Texas firm to conduct a search to fill the positions of executive director and state steward, provided the firm passes state requirements.

* Met afterward in a private session to review pending litigation, including lawsuits involving advertising rights on jockeys' pants and the denial of a license for a proposed Quarter Horse track in Williamsburg.