Missoula County Fair Officials Suspend Horse Racing

February 2, 2007

The Missoula County, Mont., Fair Commission voted unanimously to suspend horse racing this year, citing inadequate insurance coverage for jockeys.

Commissioners said the issue this year is different from last year, when insurance costs doubled and they struggled with ways to pay the bill. The matter eventually went to the County Commission, which approved horse racing for 2006.

“This is not a money issue,” Buck Smith, fair board chairman, said. “This is an insurance issue.”

All four horse-racing tracks in Montana received only one bid for covering jockeys in 2007. The policy would cost Missoula about $4,500 a race day and cover up to $50,000 in medical expenses per accident, with a $5,000 deductible.

That’s more than double the cost of last year’s daily premium, and offers much lower coverage than the $500,000 per-accident cap jockeys received in the past.

Hal Luttschwager, risk manager for Missoula County, said $50,000 is “far too low” to protect the county and the jockeys.

“My research suggests that many tracks have raised their accidental medical expense limits to $1 million,” he said in his recommendation to the board.

In addition, the policy doesn’t appear to cover those who work behind the scenes, such as riders who exercise the horses, he said. Jockeys and others generally don’t have other health insurance and are not covered by worker’s compensation, Luttschwager added.

A few horse owners and racing enthusiasts argued that jockeys are independent contractors who should carry their own insurance, and that fair commissioners didn’t work hard enough to raise funding for the sport.

They added that the state Legislature and the partners who broadcast Simulcast racing might be able to help.

“I have yet to hear a list of things we might be able to do,” racing supporter Bruce Micklus said. “An equal amount of time needs to be spent giving solutions.”

Smith countered that raising more money for horse racing won’t fix the problem because no insurance company appears willing to write a policy — at any cost — beyond the one being considered.

The 5-0 decision could be appealed to the county commissioners, but “they have never overridden a (fair) board decision yet,” Smith said.

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