04/19/2004 11:00PM

Three riders sue over patches

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Three jockeys have filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Kentucky seeking to strike down a rule that restricts what jockeys can wear during a race.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on April 16 on behalf of riders Shane Sellers, Robby Albarado, and Brian Peck, contends that the rule violates the jockeys' right to free speech. The jockeys are seeking to wear a patch denoting membership in the Jockeys' Guild, an organization that provides insurance for riders and represents jockeys in industry issues, during this year's Kentucky Derby, according to Mike Goodwin, one of the lawyers representing the riders.

Kentucky's rules state that a jockey cannot wear any items that "in the opinion of the commission are not in keeping with the traditions of the turf." Kentucky's regulators have frequently interpreted the rule to prohibit attaching any item to a jockey's clothing or equipment.

Last year, the Kentucky Racing Commission fined 13 jockeys $500 each for wearing a Jockeys' Guild patch on their riding breeches during the Kentucky Derby. The fined jockeys, who included Sellers and Albarado, later sued the state to appeal the ruling. That suit is still pending, Goodwin said.

The Kentucky Racing Commission was abolished earlier this year by Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher and replaced with the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. The lawsuit filed

April 16 names the former commission and the authority as plaintiffs.

Bill Street, the chairman of the authority, said in a statement that the rule should stand and warned that the commission would punish riders who violated it.

"The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority does not believe it is appropriate to change the current interpretation of the tradition of the turf," the statement said. "It is prepared to deal severely with any challenge to this interpretation."