Owner’s Donation Helps But Race is On to Save Disabled Jockeys’ Fund

April 11, 2007

A California horse owner’s donation to a struggling fund for permanently disabled jockeys will keep it solvent for another month, the head of the Jockeys’ Guild said.

Owner Michael Bello has pledged $58,000 to the fund, which gives $1,000 monthly payments to jockeys who can no longer ride. Bello is also giving $250,000 to the Jockeys’ Guild, which is struggling with debt, said Dwight Manley, the national manager.

Manley said Bello’s gift to the disabled jockey fund, along with an upcoming charity auction of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro’s saddle will give the fund a “cushion.” He said the injured jockeys, many in wheelchairs, depend on the monthly payments.

“A lot of them need every penny of this to survive,” Manley said.

Bello, owner of stakes-winner Megahertz, hopes other owners will pony up, too.

“As a race horse owner, I’ve developed friendships with many of the riders, and that’s given me the opportunity to see racing from a different perspective,” he said.

Just before the 2006 Preakness, the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund was announced as a nonprofit charity established by tracks, horsemen’s organizations, jockeys and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

The fund, administered through National Thoroughbred Racing Association Charities, is intended to supplement other payments to disabled riders, such as Social Security. The payments cost about $800,000 a year.

Remi Bellocq, executive director of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, said his group is working on a long-term plan to keep the fund solvent.

Manley said Bello’s gift to the Jockeys’ Guild will help the group settle debts from legal expenses, lobbying efforts and medical claims.

Last year, Ohio jockey Gary Birzer, paralyzed in a fall at Mountaineer Racetrack in Chester, W.Va., settled a lawsuit against the Guild and two former officials who had allowed his health insurance to lapse.

Birzer, 30, expected the Guild to pay for his medical care and ongoing therapy, but learned too late that the $1 million policy he’d bought for $10 per race was inexplicably allowed to lapse.

Manley has loaned the Guild $500,000 to pay past insurance claims but says it will take time to rebuild the union’s finances.

The Guild has about 1,250 members and an annual budget of $2 million-$4 million.

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