10/27/2005 11:00PM

New jockeys' aid group formed


A group of racing industry officials have started a foundation to assist jockeys and backstretch employees who suffer injuries at the racetrack, the group's leaders said on Friday.

The organization, called the National Turf Foundation, had its first board meeting on Friday at Belmont Park in New York. So far, the foundation has collected a $10,000 donation from Ron Turcotte, a permanently disabled rider, and has received pledges from trainers Richard Mandella and Todd Pletcher, jockeys Jerry Bailey and John Velazquez, and owner Ken Ramsey to donate a portion of their earnings on Breeders' Cup day to the fund, according to Kelly Wietsma, the foundation's vice president. Wietsma is also the president of the marketing company Equisponse, which represents riders.

Wietsma said Friday that planning for the organization began a little over a year ago, after jockey Gary Birzer was paralyzed from the middle of the back down following an accident at Mountaineer Park in July. After the accident, it was revealed that the Jockeys' Guild, a national organization representing riders, had allowed an insurance policy covering jockeys for $1 million in medical bills to lapse in 2002.

The foundation has been incorporated as a nonprofit entity in Delaware, Wietsma said. The foundation does not yet plan to raise an endowment, but will make payments to injured riders and backstretch employees from ongoing fund-raising efforts, Wietsma said, including corporate donations.

John Giovanni, the former national manager of the Jockeys' Guild who was removed in 2001 after a controversial rift among the guild's board of directors, will be the foundation's unpaid executive director. On Friday, Giovanni said he hoped that the foundation would provide for special needs that are not typically covered by insurance payments, such as special equipment and cost of living stipends. He also said that the foundation will assist beneficiaries by directing them to state and federal programs that offer aid.

Giovanni had formed a similar foundation, called the Disabled Jockeys' Fund, while at the guild. That fund was dissolved in 2004 by the guild's current management.

"There's obviously a void there with the demise of the Disabled Jockeys' Fund," Giovanni said. "We're hoping to fill that void."