NY Horsemen Hoping All Sides Can Come Together on Jockey Weights

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Joe Appelbaum | ThoroStride

By Bill Finley

What does the New York Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association think about the ongoing dispute between NYRA and the New York riding colony about the scale of weights? So far, the group, which will eventually play a key role in whatever might happen concerning the weights issue, has had little to say. But NYTHA President Joe Appelbaum told the TDN that’s only because he believes his group can make more progress by working behind the scenes.

Appelbaum was not ready to issue any threats over what in recent days has become a contentious issue, lob any grenades or demand that the scale of weights not be raised. He said his primary hope is that the sides can come together and work out a compromise that will suit all involved.

Generally, jockeys, citing how hard it is and, in some respects, unsafe it is, for grown men and women to maintain such low weights, lobby racing jurisdictions to raise the scale. Horsemen’s groups often counter that asking horses to carry heavier weights can lead to more injuries and other problems.

“It’s not solely the horsemen’s decision,” Appelbaum said. “We were brought into this discussion last Monday, at which time the jockeys made their feelings about the scale of weights clear to us and we started a discussion with NYRA about that. The discussion took place before this weekend and is currently ongoing and we are reviewing the different options. NYTHA is working extremely hard with both parties to help resolve an issue which we know can be an emotional one.”

The dispute went public Saturday when the Belmont jockeys refused to ride until after being given a chance to air their grievances to NYRA executives Martin Panza and Chris Kay. Their concerns included the fact that they don’t have an existing contract with NYRA and the desire to see the scale of weights raised to 118 pounds. The 118 pounds would be the lowest weight a horse could be assigned in any race. The meeting spilled over past the first race and caused it to go off 37 minutes late. The final race on the card, the GI Man O’ War S., did not go off until 7:22 p.m.

The rancor has only intensified since. The Jockeys’ Guild issued a press release saying that due to its problems with NYRA, it was resigning from its affiliation with the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance. NYRA responded with a press release of its own, which included language expressing its clear displeasure with the jockeys. One example: “However, this past Saturday, the jockeys raised issues that had not been under discussion during the negotiations. To raise these issues outside the agreed-upon terms of negotiation, with no notice provided and mere minutes before the start of a Saturday race card, was unreasonable and caused a lengthy delay leading to confusion among fans, horseplayers, trainers and owners.”

Appelbaum said he hopes there will be a way for NYRA, the jockeys and the horsemen to come together and settle their differences in a genial manner where everyone leaves the room at least reasonably happy.

“I’m looking at page after page of facts and figures and we’re talking every day to both NYRA and the jockeys,” he said. “I think the key is to find a balance that is in line with what they do in other states.”

Appelbaum said that currently in New York, the minimum weight that can be assigned a horse in races that are a mile-an-a-quarter or longer is 114 pounds. It is 115 for all other races.

He also provided the TDN a list he had compiled of the scale of weights in other jurisdictions. The list is below:

Churchill Downs 116

Woodbine 111

Parx 114

Penn National 112

Monmouth 110

Laurel 109

Gulfstream 114

Delaware Park 111

“We will always keep the health of the jockeys in mind,” he said. “Health and safety is very important. But we also want to stay competitive with what are the scales of weights are in other states. It’s a complicated issue.”

During some of the back and forth between NYRA and the jockeys, there seemed to be an assumption that when it comes to creating a scale of weights, the decision rested with the horsemen. Appelbaum said that is not the case.

“We certainly have a say, but it is up to all the parties to come together,” he said. “The way things are done in New York is everyone tries to get together and come up with answers that everyone is comfortable with. There is no statute or regulation that says NYTHA is the one that determines the scale of weights for New York racing.”

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