Our sport is different, we are not like baseball or football, and the athletes in our sport do not belong to any particular team. They do not have health insurance; they are not given a contract with legally binding rules. Our athletes are different and so the fans of the sport make up for anything lacking in the game. We provide retirement homes to our athletes, where they can enjoy life after their jobs are done. We have a part in that…no other sport can claim that. Unfortunately for our sport, we so often forget that the horses are not the only athletes and that is why I am writing to you today.
This site is home to the greatest array of racing fans that I have come across and I am proud to call it ‘home’. We are a different breed of racing enthusiast even within the racing field. We are fans. Sure we handicap, we talk news and we argue the greatest moments of the sport; but we are able to meet here and discuss things instead of just read about these things as told by the ‘experts’. We are able to get involved and because of this, I am asking all of you to get involved.
Last week, I entertained you with a little comedy and I am so glad you appreciated it. But while I was entertaining you and we were all having a good laugh, something serious was going on. A dark cloud looms over our beloved twin spires and we are able to make it right. Friday, November 4 while finishing up our final touches for Breeders Cup a few members of the Jockeys Guild were meeting with Churchill Downs. These sometimes forgotten athletes were meeting with the most well known track in our industry asking them to reconsider their recent actions. Churchill Downs had decided prior to this not to continue funding of the Jockeys Guild.
Hall of famer Mike Smith and Jockey Guild President Johnny Velazquez, among others, armed themselves with a petition signed by over 250 jockeys when asking Churchill to reconsider. They were unsuccessful. Then on Sunday morning, while reliving all of my favorite Breeder Cups moment from the weekend I stumbled across an article in my local paper written by Johnny Velazquez. In the article he explained what it was like to work at a place that has an ambulance follow you all day. I thought about this for awhile. I thought about these jockeys for awhile. I went over every single great moment that I witnessed over the past two days…Drosselmeyer…Royal Delta…Court Vision…Hansen. None of those would have happened without those jockeys.
Jockeys, the other athletes of the game, are so easily forgotten. They are not like our beloved equine heroes, but they should not be swept under the rug. They lay their lives on the line, we know this, and we have seen it. We see it happen everyday. It happened to Ron Turcotte; it happened to Rene Douglas; it happened to Eibar Coa. These jockeys depend on the Jockeys’ Guild for medical needs, for their families and for their future. These athletes will never return to the starting gate and they have nothing protecting their future but the funds provided by the Jockeys Guild.
The Jockeys Guild provides disability, life insurance and aid to its members. The Guild relies on the contributions made not only by the jockeys themselves, but also of those made by the racetracks. Churchill has issued the following statement concerning the funding of the Jockeys Guild after a 40 year relationship, “…Because jockeys are independent contractors and not employed by our tracks, we believe they must work with other members of the industry to address any need for compensation, benefits or insurance coverage…”
I started thinking about this, about what someone like me can do. I don’t have the money to give away, and then it hit me. I have a voice and I have an audience. I have a passionate audience. I have HRN friends that love this game. MY HRN friends get it, they understand me and the game and the way I feel about this game more than anyone because they feel the same way.
So I ask you HRN friends…I implore you…join me. I am not asking for a dollar or two, I am not asking you to occupy the twinspires I am asking you for time. I am asking you to do something about this. I ask you all to write to Churchill downs, as their customers, asking them to reconsider their decision to not help the jockeys. I think they may at least consider it. Ask other people you know that love racing to also drop a line. A simple line in a letter may work wonders. I think it is worth a try. I appreciate the athletes in this sport and I know one athlete is only as good as the other, so I will be writing every week until more news comes out.
As of today, there has been no meeting set. November 14, the Jockeys Guild sent a 240-signature petition to the Board of Directors for Churchill Downs Incorporated asking them to send Churchill Downs to negotiations with the Guild. No word has been received. This week, the board will also receive my letter and hopefully letters from all of you.
Thank you all, you are the best! Below is the information to write Churchill and also more information about the Jockeys’ Guild.
Please send letters to:
Robert L. Evans, Chairman and CEO
William Carstanjen, President and COO
C/O Churchill Downs Incorporated
700 Central Ave.
Louisville, KY 40208
You can also find more information or stay up to date by following the Jockey Guild on Facebook.