12/08/2004 1:00AM

Muted reaction to Guild's move


TUCSON, Ariz. - Racetrack officials at the industry's annual convention expressed a mixture of surprise and dismay to the decision Tuesday by the Jockeys' Guild to extend the employment contract of the Guild's chief executive, L. Wayne Gertmenian, until 2009.

Publicly, racetrack officials declined to be critical of the Guild's decision, but privately their mood was in stark contrast to the overwhelming show of support for Gertmenian in Irving, Texas, where the Guild wrapped up its two-day annual gathering. Gertmenian has been aggressively pressing the tracks to increase the amount of accident insurance coverage for jockeys.

Joe Harper, the president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and the chief executive of Del Mar, said Tuesday night that the TRA would work with Gertmenian and the Guild. TRA member tracks currently pay approximately $2.2 million to the Guild each year in exchange for the jockeys waiving their broadcast rights for the purpose of simulcasting.

"We'll work with him, as we always have worked with the Guild," Harper said. "We don't control what they do."

Some racetrack operators were infuriated by the Guild's decision to allow an insurance policy that covered riders for up to $1 million in medical bills to lapse in 2002, saying they believed that the annual payments to the Guild were intended to cover the accident insurance policy, which cost $450,000 in 2001. TRA tracks currently purchase insurance policies covering jockeys for up to $100,000 in medical bills, an amount Guild officials have called inadequate.

Chris Scherf, the executive vice president of the TRA, said that "a gamut of insurance issues" have been added to the TRA's agenda for a board meeting in Tucson scheduled for Thursday. Although invited to participate in an insurance task force put together by the National Thorough-bred Racing Association in November, Scherf did not attend.

Scherf said TRA member tracks voluntarily make payments to the Guild, and "no authority currently forces them to do that."

The Guild and the racing industry have come into conflict over the past two months over what role Guild officials might have played in two jockey walkouts in November at Hoosier Park and Churchill Downs.

Several jockeys have openly criticized the Guild for failing to allow Guild board members to examine its financial records. Two weeks ago, Kent Desormeaux, a Guild board member, said he was beginning an inquiry into Gertmenian's qualifications and the Guild's finances. Desormeaux was not re-elected to the Guild's nine-member board, which is picked by a 27-member Senate.