Riders want improved benefit plan

LOUISVILLE, KY. — LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Viewers watching the Breeders' Cup races today on television might see jockeys wearing buttons imprinted with the number "47."

At local tracks, the "47" emblem might be worn on a jockey's boot.


The figure stands for the number of disabled riders who are fTC members of the Jockeys Guild and are dependent on the organization for their health and life insurance benefits.

The guild is currently renegotiating a contract with the Thoroughbred Racing Associations to increase funding for the jockeys' benefit package from the current $1.7 million to $9 million or $10 million. The TRA represents the bulk of North America's thoroughbred tracks. Its labor contract with the guild ends Dec. 31.


A flat rate ranging from $3.75 to $5.75 per mount in each live race now goes to the fund in exchange for the jockeys' media rights, such as selling their image in interstate simulcasts.

"But since 60 percent of the betting handles are now generated by the simulcasts, the number of live starts is decreasing and so is the money appropriated to the fund," said John Giovanni, the guild's national manager.

Guild members held a news conference at Churchill Downs yesterday and said that because of difficulties negotiating with the TRA, the guild is encouraging riders to wear the "47" button or sticker on Breeders' Cup day as a reminder of the disabled jockeys.

The Churchill Downs stewards ruled, however, that any rider wearing the "47" sticker in a race could face a penalty, such as a fine or suspension.

So the riders will be wearing the "47" button on their caps only during post-race Breeders' Cup interviews.

Other jurisdictions, however, are allowing the riders to display the button during races.

Chris Scherf, national director of the TRA, said the jockeys' move "is a transparent ploy to negotiate a new benefits package. It has nothing to do with honoring 47 fallen jockeys.

"The Guild wants to increase their fund by raising the fans' share of the betting takeout to one-tenth of 1 percent for every betting dollar."