12/22/2014 1:28PM

Workers' comp issue resolved to avoid shutdown in New York


There has been a resolution to the workmen's compensation insurance issue that threatened to shut down racing in New York on Jan. 1.

To help ameliorate a 59 percent increase in workmen's compensation insurance fees instituted by the New York State Insurance Fund, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association will arrange to pay half of the initial $2,475 workmen's compensation premium for trainers who are currently stabled at New York Racing Association tracks Aqueduct and Belmont Park. The initial premium was $940 in 2014.

Additionally, the trainers will now have to pay $1.50 a day per stall allotted, up from $0.95 in 2014. Finally, the percentage from purses allocated to workmen's comp will go from 0.95 percent to 1.0 percent, the maximum percentage the state allows to be used toward workmen's compensation.

In order to race in New York, trainers and owners must pay workmen's compensation insurance to cover work-related injuries suffered by jockeys and exercise riders. All totaled, workmen's compensation insurance premiums for 2015 in New York are expected to be $6.7 million, up from $4.3 million in 2014.

Trainer Rick Violette, president of the New York Jockey Injury Compensation Fund, said this was the best solution given the time frame to prevent a stoppage in racing due to lack of insurance.

“We had to come up with something that is barely palatable but sufficient enough to fund the increase,” said Violette, who also is president of NYTHA.

Violette said that the NYJICF will continue to seek workmen's comp policies from commercial insurance companies to see if a better rate can be secured.

“This is not the end of it,” Violette said. “We’ll still aggressively go after an alternative market. If we do and it saves money, we’ll gladly issue refunds.”

The large increase in insurance premiums is partly a result of the career-ending injuries suffered in 2013 by jockeys Ramon Dominguez and Jose Espinoza. Further, an exercise rider, Juan Vazquez, was killed during training hours at Belmont Park in June.

Violette said insurance rates could go down if the track can be made a safer workplace.

Toward that end, Violette said the horsemen, NYRA, the State Insurance Fund, and representatives from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office “will do a total evaluation of what happens on the backside in the morning and afternoon to enhance safety.”

Violette said the high cost of workmen's compensation insurance in New York has prevented more outfits from opening stables in the state, despite the fact the purses at NYRA tracks are the highest in the country.

“One of the reasons that we haven’t quite seen the rush to New York to race for our purses is because New York can be a very expensive place to do business and, unfortunately, we just made it more expensive,” he said.