12/21/2017 3:40PM

Standstill in negotiations between NYRA and Jockeys' Guild raises talk of work stoppage

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Negotiations between the New York Racing Association and the Jockeys’ Guild over a contract regarding health benefits and insurance have stalled, creating the possibility of a work stoppage at Aqueduct beginning with the Jan. 6 card.

According to Tom Kennedy, an attorney for the Jockeys’ Guild, the Guild is seeking a three-year contract with NYRA that calls for no increase in benefit payments in 2018 and a 1 percent increases in 2019 and 2020. Kennedy said Thursday that NYRA has refused to sign the contract and is seeking to pay less than it did in 2017.

Kennedy said that if there is not a contract agreement, Guild members who qualify to receive benefits from NYRA – that is, jockeys who rode a minimum of 200 mounts or 51 percent of their total mounts in a year at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga – would refuse to accept riding assignments beginning Jan. 1. Entries for the Jan. 6 card are taken on Jan. 1, while entries for the preceding three race days – Jan. 1, 4, and 5 – are taken in December, when the contract is still valid.

“The actions of the jockeys are for the jockeys to determine, and they as individuals are going to make a decision,” Kennedy said Thursday. “A number of them have decided if NYRA is refusing to renew the agreement they will start not accepting mounts on Jan. 1 because they’re being threatened with a loss of compensation.”

Irad Ortiz Jr., who plans to ride regularly at Aqueduct this winter, said the New York-based riders have met and decided not to ride if there is no new contract.

“We have to stay together,” Ortiz said. “We’re not asking for more or less than we have right now, we’re just asking for the same thing. If they don’t do it, I guess we’re going to have to stop riding. We have to stay together. Nobody can do something different, then it’s going to be a mess. We’re all jockeys.”

Of course, Ortiz as well as Javier Castellano, who was in New York on Thursday to ride, have the ability to ride at Gulfstream Park, whereas some of the other riders would not get the same opportunities out of town. Though riding at Aqueduct this week, Castellano will head to Florida beginning next week.

Castellano, the reigning four-time Eclipse Award-winning rider and 2017 Hall of Fame inductee, said he and other veterans, such as John Velazquez, have been part of the negotiations since October with Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing operations.

“Luckily, we are in the position to fight for the little guy,” Castellano said. “The little guy is not going to go to Marty Panza and knock on the door, ‘Hey Marty, can you give me the benefits?’ ”

Kennedy said that NYRA is the only major racing organization that has not agreed, at least in principle, to a new contract with the Guild moving forward. He and Castellano both said that The Stronach Group and Churchill Downs have an agreement in principle with the jockeys for at least 2018.

“I don’t feel like from NYRA that we have any support lately,” Castellano said. “Every single track in the United States, they support us. I feel like everybody is disappointed about NYRA – all the jockeys. We have a meeting of the jockeys, and they refused. They don’t want to take entries.”

Panza, saying he wouldn’t negotiate in the press, would only say, “NYRA is one of the strongest supporters of its jockey colony in America.” He declined further comment.