Ky. Derby Jockeys, Others Would Get Coverage under Proposal

May 7, 2007

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from the 1st District of Kentucky, where the racing industry was focused on the Kentucky Derby, said the dangers of horse racing should not be ignored.

Two congressmen introduced legislation that would provide injury insurance for jockeys and others who work in horse racing.

“We should establish a basic level of injury coverage for workers in the horse racing industry,” Whitfield said in a statement. “That’s exactly what this bill is intended to do.”

Whitfield and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., introduced the measure, which would provide insurance for jockeys, trainers and backside workers.

“Our legislation creates a safety net for the jockeys, trainers and backside workers who risk their lives each time they enter the track,” Stupak said in the statement.

The legislation would provide at least half of the fees that horsemen’s groups receive for approving simulcast racing agreements to state racing authorities. The racing authorities would be required to use the revenue to offer on-track injury and health insurance for jockeys, exercise workers, trainers and track workers, the statement said.

The issue gained attention three years ago when jockey Gary Birzer was paralyzed in an accident at West Virginia’s Mountaineer racetrack. MTR Gaming, parent company of the racetrack, took responsibility. But its policy stopped at $100,000, leaving Birzer with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills.

Julie Koenig-Loignon said May 4 that Churchill Downs, where racing fans were gathering for the Kentucky Derby on May 5, and the company’s other three tracks Arlington, Calder and Fair Grounds all took out policies in 2005 paid for by the company that provide each jockey with $1 million in on-track accident coverage. The policies were renewed and remain in effect, she said.

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

Whitfield said the bill would also prohibit racing horses that have been given anabolic steroids, which he said would help improve racing safety.

Dwight Manley, national manager of the Jockeys’ Guild, said the legislation was crucial.

“Many race tracks do not have adequate insurance to cover accidents and injuries, and jockeys and on-track workers are not currently covered by worker’s compensation in most states,” Manley said in the statement.

Whitfield and Stupak have worked together previously to help racing workers and held hearings concerning past management of the Jockeys’ Guild.

The former chief executive of the guild, L. Wayne Gertmenian, was fired in 2005 amid questions about the organization’s finances and his management.

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