09/20/2002 12:00AM

Mills seeks solution for skyrocketing insurance


MIAMI - As chairman of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association insurance committee, Linda Mills is well aware of the serious problem facing the racing industry regarding workmen's compensation. And as president of the Florida Division of the HBPA, Mills understands how desperate that situation is becoming in her own state.

That is why Mills and her husband, owner and former trainer Randy Mills, working independently from the Florida HBPA, have spent the better part of the last 18 months working with insurance companies in an attempt to put together a comprehensive workers' compensation plan that would better serve the needs of Florida horsemen, while reducing costs.

"We had a very positive meeting with a major insurance company earlier this week and should know by next week whether they will write a policy that will cover the entire backstretch community," said Linda Mills. "Right now fewer and fewer companies are writing equine workmen's compensation policies in Florida. Even horsemen who have never filed a single claim are having trouble getting coverage once their present policies come up for renewal. And the only place trainers who can't get coverage have to turn is the Joint Underwriters Association for the State of Florida and they charge a ridiculous $70 per $100 of payroll."

Under Mills's plan, trainers would be charged for workers' compensation according to the number of stalls they have. Therefore "everybody would pay the same amount per horse," said Mills. "In addition, the policy will not only cover grooms and hotwalkers, but also freelance exercise riders and the trainers themselves when they gallop their own horses. Currently exercise riders are not covered under traditional workmen's compensation policies."

Mills said workers' compensation is particularly rough on the smaller outfits. In years past, minimum policies cost from $750 to $850. Those simple policies now cost as much as $4,000 to $6,000. All trainers are required to have an up-to-date workers' compensation policy on file at Calder to run a horse.

Mills said she has discussed the situation and has the backing of track management at Calder, Gulfstream, and Tampa Bay Downs.

"We will need the support of the majority of our horsemen to make this plan work," said Mills. "The short-term goal is to get better coverage for our people. In the long term it is to bring down the cost of workmen's compensation for everybody."

One local trainer in favor of Mills's plan is Joe Calascibetta, who said his 25-horse stable costs him approximately $40,000 in workers' compensation fees annually. "I think this is an excellent idea," said Calascibetta. "A lot of insurance companies have already left or intend to leave the area and getting coverage is becoming increasingly more difficult and expensive."

High Ideals, high impact

High Ideal won his first race of the year when he rallied to a 1 1/2-length victory over Pay the Preacher in Friday's $37,695 Mic Mac Handicap. Sir Bear finished a well-beaten fourth as the 9-5 favorite and 121-pound highweight in the field of seven older horses.

High Ideal raced in perfect position under jockey Eduardo Nunez, then rallied from off the pace to join Pay the Preacher before edging clear in deep stretch.

High Ideal paid $6.80 after covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.85 over a fast track. Marty Wolfson trains High Ideal for owner Judith Brodkin.

Three-time Grade 1 winner Sir Bear was never a serious factor, and he finished 20 lengths behind High Ideal. He was making his first start since July 4 and second since the the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup, in which he bled badly and finished far back.

The Mic Mac served as a local prep for the $100,000 Spend a Buck Handicap on Oct. 12.

* Jockey M.R. Cruz was lucky to escape serious trouble after his left rein broke when he was riding Tours Val, the odds-on favorite, shortly after the start of Thursday's second race. Cruz was able to get control of his horse by grabbing the left side of the bridle and then eased him across the finish line. Cruz was involved in a similar incident on May 18, when his outside rein broke when he was aboard Blake's Groomstick.

* Jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. escaped injury after her horse Jolie Good wheeled and threw her into the temporary railing after the start of Friday's first race. Homeister took off the remainder of her mounts on the card.