11/13/2004 12:00AM

Rider boycott spreads to Hoosier Park


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - While Churchill Downs Inc. officials gave assurances Saturday that there would be a full program at company track Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind., where racing was canceled Friday because jockeys refused to ride, the prospect of even more boycotts loomed a possibility across the country.

After starting last week at Churchill Downs, where 14 riders were banned for the rest of the fall meet for refusing to ride, the jockey-insurance controversy moved to a second front Friday evening, when jockeys informed Hoosier Park president Rick Moore before the first race was scheduled to be run that they would not ride, ostensibly because of concerns about the safety rail.

Moore later said the safety-rail argument was little more than a red herring for the larger issue of affordable insurance for jockeys, which has been the primary point of contention over the last week between Churchill management and The Jockeys' Guild. Moore said the presence of Guild officials Albert Fiss and Darrell Haire in the Hoosier jockeys' room at the time of the Friday work stoppage "points to the real reason that jockeys elected not to ride."

As of Saturday afternoon, 15 jockeys had been served ejection notices from Hoosier, according to CDI spokesperson Julie Koenig-Loignon, who said it had not been determined how long the ejections would last. "They are in effect until further notice, but whether it will extend to the end of the meet [Nov. 21] or whenever has not been decided," she said.

The ejected jockeys are Jeremy Acridge, Keith Austin, John Byrne, Cesar Camaque, Jose Camejo, Roimes Chirinos, Jose H. Delgado, Jose J. Delgado, Inosencio Diego, Jessica Endres, Martin Escobar, Vicente Flores, Godofredo Laurente, Sidney LeJeune Jr., and Rodney Prescott.

Ten of those jockeys refused to leave the jockeys' room Friday night, even after they were notified that Hoosier was closed for business and that everyone had to leave. Finally, officers from the Chesterfield Police Department, which has jurisdiction at Hoosier, arrived at about midnight to escort them off the grounds. None of the jockeys was arrested or charged.

Koenig-Loignon said Saturday afternoon that at least 14 jockeys had agreed to ride that evening and "more phone calls are coming in."

Churchill averted any disruption in racing action last week because they had ample warning of some of the jockeys' intentions not to ride. The jockeys' strategy of surprise was far more effective Friday at Hoosier, when they waited until the horses were in the paddock for the first race and left management with no choice but to cancel.

Churchill president Steve Sexton said Hoosier officials and jockeys were scheduled to meet Saturday evening and that jockeys who had agreed to ride Saturday would be offered roughly the same insurance program that some Churchill jockeys accepted last week. Sexton said Anthem-Blue Cross is offering accident and health coverage of up to $5 million for rates that varied according to age but could be bought at monthly premiums of as low as $70.

Meanwhile, people on both sides of the controversy were saying privately that they have been hearing persistent talk that further work stoppages at other tracks were possible in the near future, although none occurred Saturday.

Haire, the national member representative for the guild, said Saturday that he would be unable to comment on any aspect of the controversy until further notice. Haire had hinted Wednesday that a work stoppage might have been imminent at a second or third Midwest track, which came to fruition Friday night at Hoosier.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association said last week that it is forming a panel to explore the insurance issue, although no timetable has been set.