02/03/2005 1:00AM

Warren forms rival guild for California jockeys

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Benoit & Associates
Ron Warren

Jockey Ron Warren Jr., who has formed a rival organization to the Jockeys' Guild in California and is seeking to manage payments from the state, said on Thursday that "99 percent" of the riders in northern California have joined his group, the California Jockeys' Guild.

The new organization, which filed articles of incorporation on Jan. 25, is seeking to manage an annual payment from the state of California that provides for health benefits for jockeys. In the past, the funds have been managed by the Jockeys' Guild, the embattled national organization for riders.

The payment, which annually totals $1 million, is in limbo this year, and the formation of Warren's organization is setting up what could be a complex competition for the money.

California law requires that the funds, which are derived from uncashed parimutuel tickets, be distributed to the organization representing the majority of riders in the state. Both the California Jockeys' Guild and the national Jockeys' Guild, which is based in Monrovia, Calif., are expected to claim that they represent the majority of riders this year.

The California Horse Racing Board suspended the payment to the national Jockeys' Guild earlier this year after concerns were raised by a CHRB commissioner, Richard Shapiro. Shapiro criticized the Guild for failing to answer specific questions about how the state funds are managed. Shapiro and the Jockeys' Guild's California legal counsel, Barry Broad, reached an agreement last week that will allow CHRB personnel to audit Guild documents pertaining to the state payment, but Shapiro has said the money will not be released until his concerns are satisfied.

In the meantime, Warren's organization has been gathering riders in its bid to represent the majority of California jockeys.

Warren declined to give an exact number of riders that have joined his organization, but said he is currently collecting signatures from jockeys in Southern California after canvassing Golden Gate Fields in the north. Members of the group's board of directors, Warren said, include Russell Baze, who recently became the sport's No. 2 rider in career victories, and northern California mainstays Roberto Gonzalez, Joey Castro, and Francisco Duran.

According to CHRB records, 333 jockeys are licensed in the state. Any jockey who rides even one race in California, including a jockey who ships in to ride in a stakes race, is required to take out a three-year jockey's license.

Mike Marten, a spokesman for the board, said that in the past, the national Jockeys' Guild has presented documents showing that it represents "about 100" California riders in making its claim of a majority. However, no other organization was seeking the payment in those years, and it is unclear how "California jockey" will be defined if two organizations claim to represent the majority.

Shapiro said earlier this week that he has asked the board's legal counsel to better define the law's intent in case two organizations seek the money.

Warren said the goal of the California Jockeys' Guild is to provide for better management of health benefits for the state's jockeys. He said he formed the organization because of deep dissatisfaction over how the Guild has conducted itself over the past four months.

"They've never given us any straight answers to any of our questions, and we're pretty fed up," Warren said. "They've done to us what they've done to everyone else. We want to know where the money is going and how it is being spent, but no one gives us a straight answer."

Eric Banks, a spokesman for the Guild, said that Guild officials would not comment on Warren's organization or his statements.

Warren said that northern California jockeys met with the Guild's president, L. Wayne Gertmenian, and the Guild's chief financial officer, Gevork Asatryan, on Jan. 7 at Golden Gate Fields. At the meeting, the jockeys asked the Guild to explain various aspects of the Guild's financial statements. Warren said that jockeys were not satisfied with the answers, and that Gertmenian refused to answer any questions about "unverifiable claims" on his r?sum? on the website of Pepperdine University, where Gertmenian is a tenured professor.