11/08/2004 12:00AM

Racing's future is not insured


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - On this day in history, the 10th day of November, the following things occurred:

The Marine Corps was created by the U.S. Congress (1775).

Dueling was outlawed by the state of Kentucky (1801).

Buchenwald was liberated by the Allies (1945).

"Sesame Street" made its television premiere (1969).

Charles de Gaulle died at home in France (1970).

The Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior (1975).

The Berlin Wall began to fall (1989).

Nov. 10 also marks the birthday of Martin Luther (1483), Richard Burton (1925), Norm Cash (1934), Roy Scheider (1935), Greg Lake (1948), Ann Reinking (1949), and Sammy Sosa (1968).

It was also on Nov. 10, 1984, that the Breeders' Cup was born, the product of John Gaines's vision of a late-season championship event, designed to showcase the finest Thoroughbreds in the land and funded by the people who brought them into the world.

That first running of the Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park marked a watershed in horse racing history, not to mention the mother of all L.A. weekend traffic jams and a renewed appreciation for the job of racing steward. By the time the Hollywood officials untangled the climactic moments of the inaugural Breeders' Cup Classic, the NBC telecast was barely minutes from going off the air and a 31-year-old Midwestern rider named Pat Day had climbed to the top of the world aboard Classic winner Wild Again.

"That day certainly took my career to the next level," Day said. "It was a very significant moment."

So happy 20th birthday to the Breeders' Cup. May you have many, many more. And apologies for what is happening to spoil the special day. Instead of hats and horns, cake and balloons, and a congratulations call from the White House, this particular Nov. 10 will go down in racing history as the day a group of jockeys took a tough stand and refused to ride at Churchill Downs.

The situation is a shame and needs to be dealt with before the issue of catastrophic medical care insurance festers into a crisis that threatens the industry.

It should be the avowed policy of any reporter to keep a safe distance from taking sides in a management-labor dispute, unless, of course, it comes down to crossing a picket line. (For some reason, that still feels downright un-American.)

Even when a racetrack management like Churchill Downs calls upon the local police force to handcuff and escort a labor activist like Shane Sellers from the grounds, the benefit of the doubt must be allowed. Although licensed by the state to do business, the track is private property, and the public is its guest. Anyway, who knows what kind of havoc the scrappy, 118-pound Sellers could have wrought on the new construction project?

When it comes to the coverage of jockeys by state-mandated workers' compensation insurance, the parimutuel racing map is divided into the five blue states - in which California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Idaho have successfully included riders under the workers' comp policies paid for by horsemen - and the 38 red states.

Included among the uncovered red states are such major leaguers and major league wannabes as Florida, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Arkansas, Louisiana, Indiana, and, obviously, Kentucky.

Steve Sexton, the president of Churchill Downs, correctly stated that the workers' comp insurance question is an industry issue that cannot be solved track by track, meet by meet.

Somehow, though, the problem has been solved five times on a state-by-state basis. Clearly, that should be the plan of attack. And when Sexton says Churchill Downs can't go it alone, he is being way too modest. That's like saying General Motors can't do a thing about fuel efficiency all by itself.

And what if Ford joins the fray? When taken together, Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp. own 19 tracks where Thoroughbred racing is presented. Those 19 tracks are located in 12 different states, and 10 of those 12 are red - Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, Indiana, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Ohio - just waiting to join the workers' comp blues.

Ford and GM - sorry, CDI and MEC - have a natural ally in the Jockeys' Guild, whose membership is highly motivated to find a solution to the insurance issue. Unfortunately, motivation without direction can turn into frustration, which is what has happened at Churchill Downs with the boycott that pits not only jockeys against management, but jockeys against jockeys in potentially bitter civil strife.

Pat Day, for one, is declining to join any boycott.

"Because I'm not walking with the riders does not mean I am not supportive of the their cause," Day said Monday. "And I'm upset if my actions are deemed as unsupportive. But I didn't feel this mode or method was a proper or correct way to address it at this time.

"I do believe that it's an industrywide problem and needs to be addressed by industrywide representation," Day added. "And I hope it can be resolved. Quickly."

In the meantime, it's probably a good thing that Kentucky outlawed dueling.