Nutshell: Amid a bitter dispute over Parx Racing;s demand that they sign an insurance waiver, most of the track’s jockeys intend to boycott Saturday’s card. Only three of 87 entered horses on Saturday’s card have a named rider.
by Linda Dougherty
More than 50 jockeys who ride regularly at Parx Racing gave notice March 14 that they would not accept mounts beginning March 19 unless they were guaranteed unconditional coverage by the Bensalem, Pa. oval’s on-track insurance policy.
On Monday afternoon, they made good on that threat. The Parx racing office on Monday put out the overnight for the card of Saturday, March 21 — its first day of live racing following the March 19 deadline. It listed jockeys for only three horses on the nine race program – Christian Olmo (2nd), Norberto Pagan (6th), and Ronald Hisby (8th) aboard horses trained by Carla Morgan, Keith LeBarron, and Ramon Preciado, respectively – with the rest of the horses having no riders. Overall, 87 horses are entered.
And by late Monday afternoon, that number had reportedly dwindled to two. According to Terry Meyocks, the National Manager of the Jockeys’ Guild, Olmo, originally slated to ride on Saturday, had decided to take off his lone mount when made aware of the situation.
In November, Parx management required all license holders to sign a waiver – or lose backstretch privileges – that indemnifies the track from responsibility should an injury or death occur.
It is believed that Parx is requiring all participants to sign the waiver in the wake of the April, 2014 jury verdict in a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court that awarded nearly $7.8 million to the family of exercise rider Mario Calderon, who was killed in 2010 at Parx when the horse he was riding during Sunday training hours spooked, reportedly at chickens near the track, and dragged him.
“It’s not fair to the jockeys who ride at Parx or the out-of-town riders that come in,” said the Jockeys’ Guild’s Meyocks. “This is a dangerous game, and the jockeys know that, but at the same time they need to be covered.”
Meyocks also said that the on-track insurance policy Parx currently has in effect is critical and is not open for negotiation — both at Parx, and throughout the county.
He said the Guild has been attempting to negotiate with Parx management since November. It sent a letter Nov. 6 to Parx chairman Robert W. Green, reinforcing that state regulations forbid the track from requiring jockeys to sign the waiver as a condition of riding there.
“Please be advised that the Guild will resist any attempt by you to enforce these terms against our members,” stated the letter, which was written by the Guild’s legal counsel, Mindy Coleman.
But Parx notified the Guild that as of March 19 it would no longer provide its current on-track insurance without the signed waivers.
Meyocks, Coleman, and Guild representative Tony Black met with horsemen to explain that it was not in the best interests of racing to expose them or the track to lawsuits by injured jockeys should there be an accident caused by negligence in the conduct of a race or the training of a horse.
“When I broke my arm last year, the bill was more than $53,000, which included a $780 ambulance ride to the hospital plus loss of income,” said Black, the track’s all-time leading rider with 5,208 wins in the books. “If the track didn’t cover me, I was going to have to sue the trainer.
“No track in the country uses a catastrophic injury clause as a bargaining chip,” said Black. “We won’t ride without insurance.”
One trainer who requested anonymity said that he fully supported what the jockeys are doing, but there are some trainers who just want to bring in other riders so that live racing can continue.
Since January 1, Parx has lost 18 live racing days – including five of the first nine cards in March – due to unsafe track conditions from weather. While that’s not unusual for a typical winter in Bensalem, a jockeys’ boycott in addition to the lost cards could add up to financial hardship for all but the most secure racing operations.
The waivers were originally distributed in the Parx jockeys’ room between races Nov. 4. Under the line where a jockey was supposed to sign his or her name, it states: “I am aware and acknowledge that participating or being in the vicinity of horses in races or in training exercises … is hazardous, with the risk of serious injury or death.”
Efforts to reach Parx Director of Racing Sam Elliott were unsuccessful at press time.
“Hopefully this situation can be resolved,” said Meyocks, who indicated that he and other Guild reps will continue to work towards an amicable resolution.