11/12/2004 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Caution urged in rider protest over insurance

In the current dispute between the riders and Churchill Downs, the issues, mainly that of insurance for the riders, are well known by now.

No one can deny my credentials as a long-standing and prominent activist in the ranks of those who have consistently supported the jockeys and their interests. Bill Shoemaker was one of my closest friends and associates. Eddie Arcaro, the founder of The Jockeys' Guild, and I were like brothers. Those little giants - who must fight weight as well as animals who outweigh them 1,000 pounds to about 112 - are among the most courageous on earth. Horse racing could not survive without them.

My support continues to the present and is, if anything, stronger than ever. Nevertheless, I would counsel my jockey friends to cool out a bit in the present dispute with Churchill. Pat Day, perhaps our greatest active rider, reflects my own feelings in his refusing to be a part of the current insurrection. I admonish his more passionate associates: Do not put racing and Churchill in a position that is untenable. That you have some justifiable grievances is undeniable. On the other hand, Churchill did not create all that you object to, and it cannot unilaterally solve the problems. Please recognized that these problems are industry-wide.

D.G. Van Clief, the president of Breeders' Cup Ltd., is putting together a panel to look into this matter and make proposals. The record shows that he is a man of honor, as well as being a friend to racing and all of its elements. I believe D.G. and his panel will look into this matter in a dispassionate and unbiased way, and I will guarantee you that they will make meaningful suggestions. Further, Churchill is anything but negative to the jockeys and their well-being. And so, to Shane Sellers and Wayne Gertmenian, I plead with you: Give this effort and this panel a chance. It is your best hope for a meaningful settlement, as well as the best hope for racing.

Dr. Alex Harthill, DVM
Louisville, Ky.

Takeout hike could help

While I'm sorely disappointed that if I make it to the track to bet Churchill Downs races, I won't see many of my favorite jockeys, I sympathize with their predicament. In today's world, $100,000 doesn't buy a lot of medical treatment.

As Steve Sexton, president of Churchill Downs, said, it is a complicated problem, having to do with the nature of the independent contractor status they work under. As a member of the betting public, I pay a lot of taxes that I would rather not, so I wouldn't mind raising the takeout a fraction of a percent to provide better coverage for the jockeys. I understand the takeout goes to the state, and from there who knows where, but the concept is that most of the betting public has much respect for the jockeys and would want them to have higher insurance benefits.

Other lines of work that utilize independent contractors are all governed by regulations to keep the contractors safe. Horse racing is an inherently dangerous sport that no amount of regulation will change, and it is a disgrace that the betting public doesn't demand that the takeout provide for the stars.

John Viletto
San Francisco

Strike the wrong answer

In the past year, I have paid over $55,000 for workers' comp insurance. I am now being assessed by a company named AIK for additional payments, as they are "troubled."

Personally, I am not covered by my workers' comp policy, and disability insurance is cost-prohibitive in my profession. Knowing that financial plights are similar for my fellow trainers, and realizing the pie can be sliced only so many ways, major problems abound.

Should I strike? I don't think so - cost-prohibitive.

Paul J. McGee
Louisville, Ky.

Sellers treatment a shame

I have been a supporter of Thoroughbred racing for well over 50 years. I admire and respect the fine talents of our jockeys, who really make this sport what it is. No one questions the fact that their profession is the most dangerous in all sports. Yet, when they are injured, the very danger that they face each race, each day, prohibits them from financially protecting themselves and their families through health insurance.

The action of Churchill Downs in having Shane Sellers evicted, in handcuffs no less, is an outrage. Moreover, he has been ordered by Churchill authorities not to enter any Churchill property, in spite of what he has personally done in fine performances over many years at Churchill Downs and, yes, even its newly acquired Fair Grounds.

I call upon racing enthusiasts throughout the country to protest this unjustified insult to Sellers, and all jockeys in general, in the form of letters, and withholding of attendance and betting.

Shane, come to New York, and Gulfstream, and Santa Anita, and we will join you there! As for Churchill Downs, I am afraid that its action will come back to haunt it.

William C. Norvell Jr.
Houston

Bottom line holds sway

It would seem that in a billion-dollar industry, a crucial human ingredient - the jockeys - needed to make the cash cow run would be looked after. Or is the race horse industry like so many others, where greed and the bottom line supersede common sense?

David Hill
Bloomington, Ind.

Churchill should give a little

Churchill Downs presumably takes in money hand over fist. You would think it could spare some chump change to protect the jockeys, who don't make nearly what other pro athletes make. It would be the right thing to do, but once again corporate greed and the utter absence of compassion wins again.

Kevin Smith
Bordentown, N.J.

Boycott a dangerous tactic

If jockeys think that boycotting races will have an effect, they need to step back and take a look at the racing establishment as it is today.

It is the bettors who actually control racing, because without them there is no sport (at least in this country). With simulcasting today, if there were a stoppage of racing, a track could probably do better, since it would just bring in more signals from around the country and not have to pay local purses.

If that scenario were to come to pass, the jockeys would find themselves with the trainers and owners quite unhappy with them and the situation they created. Each day they boycott would be a payday that is lost forever.

Joe DiSalvo
Lombard, Ill.