Updated on 09/17/2011 6:56PM

Showdown gets personal

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Four Footed Fotos
John McKee and Eddie Martin Jr. (first and second from left), here in the fifth race, were among the regular Churchill riders with mounts on Wednesday's card.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Tensions in the jockey-insurance controversy at Churchill Downs were on display Wednesday when a group of about 10 banned riders walked onto track property to demand the return of their equipment and other personal effects on the first racing day that they were barred from competition.

Churchill personnel ultimately complied, but not before several of the jockeys, led by Shane Sellers, squared off verbally with track security and Louisville Metro Police officers. There were no arrests in the incident,which lasted about 25 minutes.

The controversy started Sunday when Churchill banned jockeys who said they would not ride Wednesday or Thursday in protest of what the riders say is inadequate accident insurance coverage. The list of banned jockeys was cut from 15 to 14 Wednesday when Dean Sarvis was reinstated. Sarvis had not been present Sunday for a meeting with Churchill's president, Steve Sexton and was inadvertently put on the list.

Meanwhile, two high-ranking officials with The Jockeys' Guild were at Churchill on Wednesday and said they were frustrated by what they called a refusal by Sexton to meet with them to discuss the dispute.

"We keep asking to talk, and they won't meet with us," said Darrell Haire, national member representative for the guild. Haire was accompanied by Albert Fiss, the guild's vice president.

John Asher, vice president of Churchill, said Wednesday afternoon that Sexton "had no messages today" from guild officials, "although Mr. Fiss did stop by earlier today, when he was here with the jockeys, to see Mr. Sexton. Steve was busy at the time, but when he was able to go out and see him, Mr. Fiss was gone. As for repeated attempts to schedule a meeting, we just don't think that's the case."

Sexton has said that the issue of affordable accident insurance is best handled in a national or industry forum. He has called the jockeys' boycott a "knee-jerk reaction" and has said "it is not fair to target just one track."

At issue is the amount of accident insurance coverage that Churchill and some other racetracks are willing to provide. Churchill and other Kentucky tracks currently provide $100,000 in medical coverage in case of an accident, but the jockeys say they need a major increase. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association said Monday that it is forming a panel to explore the issue.

Several banned jockeys have said privately that the boycott could soon spread to at least two other Midwest tracks: Hawthorne near Chicago and Hoosier Park near Indianapolis. Haire said he was aware of such talk, but added, "That's not happening - not yet." Randy Meier, a longtime top jockey at Hawthorne, said he did not believe a boycott would occur there.

Asher confirmed that several of the 14 banned jockeys contacted Sexton on Tuesday to determine whether they could rescind their original decisions and begin riding again. Sexton denied their request.

The confrontation Wednesday between the banned jockeys and security personnel unfolded in front of about 75 people, including reporters, cameramen, and other bystanders.

The riders met at the Louisville home of jockey Mark Guidry before a group of about 10 of them drove to Churchill. They arrived at about 1 p.m. Eastern, shortly before the second race, and were allowed in before being stopped just outside the entrance to the jockeys' room.

Sellers was the most vocal of the group, insisting that the equipment was needed immediately and that the riders needed access to the jockeys' room. Sellers quit riding on Oct. 2, citing inadequate insurance coverage. Finally, valets came out with the equipment and handed it over to the jockeys. After conducting interviews for a few more minutes, the jockeys departed quietly.

At one point, jockeys who had ridden in the second race were walking back toward the room. As they did, the banned jockeys, standing only a few feet away, glared at them - and one banned jockey was even seen to mouth the word "scab" - but their stares were not returned.

"I saw them," said John McKee, one of the track's regular riders who competed on Wednesday. "I mean, I respect them 100 percent. But I honestly don't think they have to go about it this way. They've put a lot of people on the spot. Me, I can't afford to give up what some of these older, more established riders are giving up. I think we all need to be more reasonable. We all have to give up something in a business like this."

Veteran jockey Eddie Martin Jr., a New Orleans native who won two races Wednesday, also said he has strong empathy for the banned riders' cause. But, Martin said, when Sexton told him he wouldn't be allowed back into Fair Grounds, Martin's home track, it scared him.

"I'm actually confused about what both sides are trying to do," Martin said. "I just don't know - really, I just don't know."

Before the 10th and last race of the day, Pat Day, the most prominent jockey to shun the boycott, said, "Whenever a situation like this gets to the point it has, nobody wins. Everyone's a loser. I'm saddened it's gone this far."

Earlier, before the first race, about 10 members of the Teamsters union demonstrated quietly on behalf of the banned jockeys just outside Churchill.

"We're here to support the jockeys," said David Swift, business agent for Local 89 of the Teamsters. "This isn't a picket line. We're just here to provide information."

As for ontrack action Wednesday, there were no major surprises. Martin, McKee, and apprentice Brian Hernandez Jr., another Churchill regular, won two races apiece. The only race won by a jockey not considered a member of the regular colony was the 10th, in which Pedro Velez, who works primarily as an exercise rider, won aboard 16-1 shot Genuity. Favorites won four of the races in the pick six (races 5 to 10), which sported a $140,074 carryover. Perfect tickets returned $51,249.20.