04/29/2008 11:00PM

Unclear how jockey fee dispute will play out


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - A dispute between Chicago-based jockeys and some Illinois horsemen continued to simmer this week. Jockeys briefly walked off the job last Friday at Hawthorne, delaying the races there by some two hours while insisting that owners increase the fee paid to jockeys whose horses don't earn a piece of the purse. Now, the question is how the situation will carry over into the Arlington meet that begins Friday.

The issue of a base mount-fee increase came to the surface last June at Arlington, but besides jockeys filing a lawsuit - since dropped - against the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, nothing came of it. Last Friday, however, jockeys refused to ride unless owners agreed to raise losing-mount fees from $45 to $75, and to pay jockeys finishing fourth or fifth a base mount fee plus 2 percent of their mount's earnings. By Saturday, a system was in place whereby riders were presenting horsemen a contract upon entering the paddock to ride a particular race; if the horseman agreed to pay the higher fee, the jockey would ride. If not, the horseman would have to find a new jockey, if one was willing to break ranks.

Tempers flared a couple times over the weekend, but racing went off without a hitch through Monday's program. Jockeys, however, were paid under the old fee scale for the pay period that ended last Saturday, and it remains to be seen if the increased fees will be paid out when the next round of checks is cut this weekend. Money is paid to riders by the horsemen's bookkeeper, who essentially works for the horsemen's group.

The core group of Chicago riders will continue charging the higher mount fee at Arlington, but there are new members of the jockey colony now, and there is a question of whether solidarity will hold. Also, the ITHA still is establishing a firm position on the jockeys' demands: the group's leadership has resisted the increase, saying they are in no position to demand their members pay the higher fee. The $45 rate currently in place has no basis in law, and there is no strict guidance in Illinois on how to set mount fees.

Caught in the middle of the situation are Chicago's racetracks.

"This is between jockeys and horsemen, but it impacts the tracks," said Arlington president Roy Arnold. "We haven't taken a position for or against. We have said that it's in everyone's best interest that the parties continue to talk."

Douglas excels at picking his spots

After a two-year absence from Arlington, Rene Douglas returned in 2007 and captured his fifth riding title here. Suffice it to say, the Arlington meet was a major part of his year.

Douglas rode 130 winners in 2007 at Arlington; he rode 43 winners at all other venues the rest of the year.

"When you're done with Chicago, it's the end of September, so you really don't have too much time," Douglas said. "I do a little bit of Keeneland, go to Florida, but going to Gulfstream, I think I kind of lose a little bit of momentum."

Douglas said he has focused on landing higher-class mounts when he's not riding most every race at Arlington. So far this year, he has won 24 races, five of them stakes, including three graded races. Saturday - after riding opening day here - Douglas will go to Churchill Downs for a ride in the most famous stakes of all - the Kentucky Derby.

There, Douglas will get a leg up on longshot Z Humor.

"Even if your horse is a longshot, if he's doing good, you got a shot," Douglas said. "I worked the horse last week, and he worked good."

Douglas and agent Dennis Cooper tend to pick up business from all quarters at this meet, and Douglas is enthused about a second summer on Arlington's Polytrack.

"Polytrack is my favorite," he said. "I think it's the track of the millennium."

Several changes to wagering menu

Arlington has made several changes to its wagering menu, including the introduction of a new exotic bet, the High-5. The High-5, offered on the final race each day, requires the bettor to select the first five finishers of a designated race.

Arlington also has instituted rolling daily doubles on all available races, and has reduced the base wager for the pick six to $1. Additionally, the percentage of money divided between consolation payoffs and carryovers in both the superfecta and pick four has changed: In both cases, 90 percent of the net pool will carry over, and 10 percent will be paid out in a consolations. The split last year was 75-25.

Wagers also can be made this year ontrack using a "cash card," a plastic card that can be purchased, loaded with wagering credit, and used at automated teller machines.

Subcultural Girl's annual appearance

If it is opening day at Arlington, then Subcultural Girl must be running in an Illinois-bred maiden race.

Subcultural Girl, a 5-year-old mare, finished second on opening day 2006, didn't race again for a year, and finished second on opening day 2007.

Another year-long break from racing followed, and now Subcultural Girl is entered in race 5 on Friday's opening day card. Trained in her first two starts by owner Wesley Ward, Subcultural Girl starts Friday for trainer Larry Rivelli.