Jockeys GuildThe welfare and safety of riders served as the backbone for discussion at the 2015 Jockeys’ Guild Assembly, which concluded on Jan. 20, following two days of sessions at the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Florida.

Attended by both active and retired jockeys from the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse industries, the underlying theme of this year’s Assembly was the importance of unity among the Guild and the racing industry to advance the safety of the human athletes in the sport.

“It was a very successful Assembly,” said Guild Chairman John Velazquez. “It was great to see everyone coming together – people from the past and the future generation. We are going in the right direction with the Guild.”

In his opening remarks, Terry Meyocks, the Guild’s National Manager, paid tribute to jockey Juan Saez, who died from injuries he suffered in a fall last year at Indiana Downs. Meyocks also recognized the “founding fathers” of the Guild, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. This special anniversary will be marked with celebrations at racetracks across the country on Aug. 1.

“During the 75-year history of the Guild we have definitely made the racing environment safer for our riders, something that also benefits racetracks, owners, and trainers,” Meyocks said. “However, we have continued work to do with the industry in that area. We also need to make sure the jockeys and their families are getting the proper benefits when they are injured. Riders still get injured; we know it’s a dangerous game. Whether it’s spinal cord or head injuries, we want to work with everybody in the industry to prevent them the best we can moving forward.”

  • Among the safety issues addressed at the Assembly was the diagnosis and management of concussions. The presentation featured Dr. Mark R. Lovell, who has worked with athletes for 25 years as a concussion expert. Lovell said jockeys would be well served to participate in the “ImPACT” protocol, a program that is mandatory in other professional sports and provides a diagnosis for concussions and subsequent treatment. Lovell said all riders should receive a “baseline” test that can be used as reference in the event of a concussion. Although not mandatory, baseline testing is currently available for riders through funding from The Jockey Club.
  • Bryan Shaffer, a Technical Operations Specialist with Chesapeake Testing, discussed helmet and vest safety. He reviewed the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) – the gold standard for helmet testing – and outlined the importance of having equipment that meets safety standards. Shaffer cautioned riders to make sure their helmets meet ASTM’s guidelines following spills in which damage may have occurred.
  • Nancy LaSala, the Executive Director of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys’ Fund, provided an update on the financial status of the organization, which currently provides assistance to 61 disabled riders. LaSala said the PDJF “has no guaranteed funding” and that the monies currently in the fund will only provide benefits for the next 15 months. LaSala urged riders to contribute to the “$1 start” donation program, which began in 2014 at 26 participating tracks across the country, and generated $57,000. She noted that with more than 360,000 starts by jockeys in races last year, the amount of money from this program could be substantial if all riders participated.
  • Mike Ziegler of the NTRA’s “Safety and Integrity Alliance” spoke about current protocols in place at 23 accredited racetracks and further safety measures the NTRA will seek in order to provide a safe environment for both horse and rider. One of the new initiatives the NTRA will require to be implemented at tracks is a “Jockey Injury Database”.
  • Joe Carr of Duralock High Performance Fencing addressed the Assembly on safety rails that come equipped with a “Safe Sonic Warning System”.
  • Corey Johnsen, the founder of Jockey360Talk.com and President of Kentucky Downs, discussed the website he debuted last year. Its aim is to promote jockeys and the roles they play in this industry through features and statistical information that will engage both fans and handicappers. “The mission here is to promote horse racing via jockeys and to raise money for the PDJF,” Johnsen remarked during his presentation.

Scott Wells, President of the Thoroughbred Racing Association and President and General Manager at Remington Park, spoke about the advantages of utilizing riders to market racing to the public. As an illustration, Wells showed several commercials to the audience in which jockeys were featured to promote Remington Park and its casino.

J. Curtis Linnell, the Vice-President of Operations and Wagering Analysis for the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, spoke about betting exchanges and the integrity issues associated with them. Linnell voiced concern about bettors being able to wager on horses to lose, and the lack of transparency in some of the exchanges. Linnell also expressed concern about Exchange Wagering regulations being outsourced by the New Jersey Racing Commission to industry participants.

Kenneth Munao, Sr. of Morgan Stanley discussed the importance of money management, a practice he said should begin well in advance of a rider’s retirement. Munao pointed to a program that debuted in 2014 at Chicago tracks, where riders designated $5 from each of their mount fees and had it placed into individual retirement accounts.

In other Assembly news, the Guild passed a bylaw that created a new position, Director Emeritus. Retired jockey Ramon Dominguez, formerly a Guild director, will fill that role.

Guild members elected two new active jockeys to serve on the Board of Directors, Alex Birzer and Julien Leparoux.

At the Jockeys’ Guild Awards’ Dinner at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 19, the following individuals were recognized:

  • Eddie Garcia, the all-time leading Quarter Horse rider in wins at Los Alamitos, was presented with the Jacky Martin Award for exceptional performance during the 2014 season.
  • Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens, a former Guild president, was presented with the Laffit Pincay, Jr. Award for his outstanding performance in 2014, a year in which he underwent knee replacement surgery and remarkably returned to the saddle three months later
  • Corey Johnsen, an ardent supporter of the PDJF and the creator of JockeyTalk360.com, a new website dedicated to promoting jockeys, was recognized with the Eddie Arcaro Award for his exceptional commitment to jockeys and the Guild.
  • The inaugural Courage Award was presented to disabled riders, Anne Von Rosen and Michael Straight.

The Guild also recognized past Presidents, Harry Richards, Sterling Young, Eddie Arcaro, Sam Boulmetis, Sr., Bill Boland, Walter Blum, Bill Shoemaker, Jerry Bailey, Gary Stevens and Pat Day. Former National Manager John Giovanni was also recognized as well as Laffit Pincay, Jr., current Chairman John Velazquez, and current Vice-Chairman G.R. Carter for their continuing contribution.

For more information contact Jockeys’ Guild office at (859) 523-5625.