In the wake of myriad concerns voiced by the Jockeys’ Guild in conversations with New York Racing Association (NYRA) management, the organization has resigned from its affiliation with the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance and demanded enhanced safety protocols in New York, according to a statement released Monday. Per the statement, the Guild was dissatisfied with the responses it has received from the NTRA in recent months and has lost confidence that thorough safety measures are being enacted at NYRA tracks. Conversations with NYRA management reached a boiling point Saturday when the start of Belmont’s 11-race card was delayed 37 minutes after the jockey colony requested a meeting.
“There was never any intent to harm the owners, trainers, betting public and fans, nor was there ever any intention by the jockeys to cancel races,” the statement read, addressing Saturday’s incident. “The intent behind all of the concerns is to protect both the equine and human athletes, as well as provide adequate benefits for the jockeys who are regularly risking their lives at NYRA.”
The Guild’s chief concern–and the most highly publicized one–is the matter of jockeys seeking an adjusted, higher scale of weights that places less stress on riders’ bodies.
“For more than a year, the Jockeys’ Guild and the riders have talked with NYRA management concerning revising the scale of weights to a minimum of 118 lbs,” the statement read. “In order to make the current weights being used, jockeys are endangering their health, by sitting in the hot box, using extreme dieting, or alternative measures, to lose four to five pounds each racing day. In turn, jockeys can suffer severe dehydration and other health issues, which is not in the best interest of the owners, trainers, and betting public.”
The Guild also voiced concerns over larger-than-desired field sizes in turf races, issues with the management of a retirement account for NYRA riders, unsatisfactory conditions in the jockeys’ quarters and concussion protocol. The statement pointed out that racing “still remains one of the only sports, professional or amateur, in the country that does not have some sort of standard in place with regards to concussions.”
The Guild also questioned whether NYRA has adequate staff on hand to handle jockey injuries, leading to an associated fallout with the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance.
“One of the greatest areas of concern for the Guild is the assurance that racetracks have proper medical personnel, including having paramedics on the racetrack, both during training and racing hours,” the statement read. “Since NYRA was initially accredited by the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, the Guild was led to believe that NYRA had provided a properly equipped to transport ambulance, ‘staffed with at least one certified paramedic during training and two certified paramedics during racing hours.’ However, in October of 2017, after legislation was adopted in New York requiring paramedics, it was brought to the attention of the Guild and the NYRA jockey colony that this was not in fact the case, even though NYRA had been accredited several times by the NTRA.”
The Guild statement indicated that its Industry Partner Agreement with NYRA had expired Dec. 31, 2017 and the two parties had yet to reach an agreement on new terms. Calling the lack of an agreement “troublesome” to the local riding colony, the Guild stated that in order to find common ground, NYRA would need to become more receptive to addressing their concerns.
“NYRA has consistently demonstrated its commitment to act in the best interests of the sport and of the jockeys,” NYRA Director of Communications Patrick McKenna said in a statement. “NYRA has continued to make payments to the Guild even after the contract expired without any obligation to do so. We have spent considerable sums to make our racetracks and training facilities safer, and we have new protocols in place for safer training. We will continue to act in a professional manner with all stakeholders, including the owners, trainers, horseplayers, fans, jockeys, exercise riders, hot walkers and grooms. NYRA will continue to negotiate in good faith with the Guild in a responsible way that does not negatively affect fans, horsemen and owners.
“NYRA strongly disagrees with the assertions leveled by the Jockeys Guild earlier this evening. For example, the Guild states that NYRA provides inadequate medical staffing during racing and training. However, NYRA has at least one paramedic on-site during morning training hours as well as a team of paramedics active during live racing at any NYRA track. NYRA has also invested in expanding our fleet of safety vehicles that support safe racing. NYRA has 8 human ambulances that are used for training and racing at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga. A fleet of 5 Kimzey equine ambulances are also available for use at all three locations. During racing, there are always two equine ambulances and four human ambulances at the location of live-racing.
“Second, the scale of weights is a national issue that cannot be addressed in a vacuum. However, in an effort to address the jockeys’ concerns, NYRA has sent a revised scale of weights to NYTHA for their consideration. The question of the proper weights carried by a rider also demands the input of trainers and owners. None of this could be reasonably accomplished mere minutes before the start of an 11-race card.
“Finally, the rail settings on the inner turf course at Belmont Park is an issue that NYRA and the jockeys, as represented by John Velazquez, have resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.”