03/18/2015 6:21PM

Parx, jockeys reach agreement over insurance dispute

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Riders at Parx racetrack outside of Philadelphia have reached a deal with track management in which they have agreed to limit any lawsuits against the track to local courts in exchange for the track addressing a handful of safety concerns raised by riders, according to officials involved in the deal.

The agreement will avert a shutdown of racing at the track this weekend. Approximately 50 riders had told Parx that they would refuse to ride beginning Saturday if the track did not address concerns related to a new insurance policy at Parx that goes into effect Friday, according to the Jockeys’ Guild, which played a leading role in the negotiations over the deal.

“I am pleased that there will not be an interruption of racing at Parx,” said Joe Wilson, the chief operating officer of Parx, in a statement distributed by the parties involved, “and that we were able to resolve this matter in an amicable fashion without any impact on the horsemen, fans, or jockeys.”

The dispute between the track and riders erupted last year when Parx distributed a waiver to jockeys requiring them to “acknowledge” the risks of riding at the track as a prerequisite for participating. Parx withdrew the waiver when riders and their legal counsels objected, but the dispute arose again this year when the track distributed new forms with identical language tied to the new insurance policy. 

According to the officials, riders will sign a form that will require jockeys to seek legal redress in Bucks County, Pa., if they sue the track, rather than in the Philadelphia court system, a point pressed by Parx management after they lost a $7.8 million judgment in Philadelphia last year. Parx will be required to make repairs to its railing and install a new loose-horse warning system, among other considerations, and the track has committed to address safety issues raised by riders on a “timely” basis.

Frank McDonnell, legal counsel for Parx, said on Tuesday that the track was insisting on the language limiting lawsuits to Bucks County because Parx believed Philadelphia courts would be more likely to award large judgments against the track due to its operation of a casino. McDonnell had also stressed on Tuesday that the waiver language did not prohibit riders from suing the track in the case of negligence.

The new policy will cover riders for up to $1 million in medical bills and include a $200,000 payment for accidental death and dismemberment.

Parx took entries for its Saturday card on Tuesday. Only three horses on the nine-race card had named riders, and all three had little recent race-riding experience. Horsemen had told riders that they would “honor” their refusals to ride during the dispute, according to the executive director of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Michael Ballezzi.

The release from Parx and the Guild said that “racing will continue as scheduled” for the Saturday card.