Jockeys' Guild co-chairmen John Velazquez and Mike Smith and CEO Terence Meyocks issued the following statement Friday in response to the California Horse Racing Board passing more restrictive whip rules Thursday:
The Jockeys' Guild is extremely disappointed by the actions taken by the California Horse Racing Board with regards to the riding crop. Specifically restricting the use of the riding crop to six times in the underhanded fashion throughout the entire race, as well as restricting the type of riding crop that can be used. The industry has a long history of disrespect for jockeys, going back many, many decades. That prevailing attitude was the main reason for the formation of the Guild in 1940. Incredibly, that disrespect continues to this day as evidenced by the CHRB Board and the Chairman failing to engage jockeys and the Guild in any meaningful dialogue. To completely ignore the pleas of the professional jockeys and the Guild, moving forward to adopt the two rules presented yesterday, which are both unsafe and jeopardize the integrity of the sport, is a dangerous precedent.
The jockeys put their lives on the line every day, not the members of the CHRB or those in direct opposition of our sport. And yet, the voices of respected Hall of Fame rider and Jockeys' Guild Co-Chairman Mike Smith, as well as world-renowned and all-time leading money earning Quarter Horse jockey, G.R. Carter, and veteran rider Aaron Gryder, not to mention all of the other California jockeys who voiced their concerns about the proposals, were completely disregarded.
The Guild is deeply troubled by the process. Starting in March of 2019, the Guild has crafted various proposals with regards to the riding crop, which were dismissed, overlooked, and sometimes not even acknowledged. Instead, the CHRB insisted on jamming through the rules rather than even considering the Guild's reasonable and compromising proposals.
Then to add insult to injury, the Chairman of the CHRB, Dr. Greg Ferraro, labeled the jockeys as part of the problem. Chairman Ferraro said, “We're never going to please the jocks. They don't want to do anything but keep the status quo.” Nothing could be further from the truth and is beyond offensive. Over the past decade, the Guild has worked with the other entities in the industry, including the CHRB, and has been more than willing to compromise on issues in the best interest of racing. The Guild was at the forefront of changes to the riding crop after the issues surrounding Eight Belles and the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Furthermore, as stated throughout the whole process, and again yesterday by representatives of the Guild, we completely recognize the need to change the existing use of riding crop rules. The Guild has actively been engaging in meetings throughout the country, not just in California, to establish a uniform rule.
The recent decision on the use of the riding crop is set to fail. It is based on the CHRB's response to perception and as opposed to doing what is right for the industry. The CHRB's decision was done to pacify the radical animal rights organizations and the individuals who have made clear of their intention to abolish racing. Additionally, the Manager of Policy and Regulations for the CHRB inferred that its role was about pleasing Sacramento. This speaks volumes about the CHRB's attitude and subsequent dismissal of what is in the best interest of racing and we believe definitely swayed the vote.
The CHRB Chairman and Board also disregarded statements from representatives of the Guild, as well as Aidan Butler of The Stronach Group, Nick Alexander of the TOC, and Alan Balch of CTT, asking for a limited extension before any adoption of the rule. These requests were made in the hopes of reaching a unified rule, created by all industry participants, which could be adopted throughout the United States. We strongly believe that the implementation of the CHRB rules as presented yesterday will have a detrimental impact on the entire industry, including the owners, betting public, racetracks, and horsemen.
Furthermore, the rule as adopted, only allows for the jockeys to use a crop with a cylinder popper, which as of now is only being made by one company. Its decision fails to consider the jockeys input, including the fact when the jockeys had used it during racing, many broke at the tip and poppers fell off during a race. This riding crop has also proved difficult to use when switching hands. Any proposed changes should have been fully evaluated in the “real world” to access the performance, as well as the effectiveness of the changes, just as has been done in the past. The Guild has repeatedly stated that we have been and will continue to be supportive of improvements made to the equipment, including the riding crops, whether it be the design or material, that are in the best interest of the horse. In order to move forward, the Guild had requested to allow for the use of the existing cushioned riding crop, as well the newly introduced cylinder riding crop. However, the CHRB has continued to refuse to even consider the proposal or engage in conversations with the riders who are most impacted by its decisions.
Unfortunately, it is evident, now more than ever before, that the CHRB does not view jockeys as essential and equal stakeholders in this industry. Instead, we are viewed as second class citizens or even worse. However, the Guild and the jockeys we represent refuse to accept this point of view. We will continue to fight for the livelihoods and safety for our members and the betterment of our sport. In doing so, the Guild will continue to work with the industry and other jurisdictions for a fair national riding crop rule. If California opts to institute its own regulations regarding the riding crop and its usage, it will not be in the interest of racing in the United States.