Judge Could Rule Wednesday In Jockey Lawsuits

By Craig Hoffmann

(LOUISVILLE, April 27th, 2004, 8 p.m.) -- A federal judge questioned a state regulation Tuesday that bans jockeys from wearing advertisements but ignores race track corporate sponsorship. WAVE 3's Craig Hoffman reports.

As jockeys prepared for another day of racing at Churchill Downs, their lawyers argued in U.S. Federal Court.

Attorney Lawrence Mentz represents the jockeys. "They take their lives in their hand, every time they go up on the mount. Most of the time they get paid $75 -- you heard that yesterday. So we think we are well within our rights to see the relief we are going after."

More than a dozen jockeys are fighting to wear a union (Jockey's Guild) patch or advertiser logos on Derby Day. "It is allowed in six other states," noted veteran jockey Shane Sellers, who says the Jockey's Guild patch would bring awareness to disabled jockeys and their plight.

In the HBO Special, "Jockey," which aired Monday night, Sellers described the daily challenge of losing weight in order to be able to ride. He calls the practice of quickly shedding pounds on race day a potentially deadly health risk.

The straight-shooting Sellers claims jockey's are being mistreated. He said "that's the way I am, I have always stood up for what I believe is right, I was a little worried when I came out this morning, but all I got was good response from people, really, hugging me."

The Louisville-based Sellers and other jockeys want to carry more weight. They're demanding better benefits, and a bigger slice of the pie. The HBO special was critical of some racetracks.

Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher says it is an issue all tracks must work together on. He says all have plans, but they must pull them together, and all work as one. He added: "We (Churchill Downs) have taken some strides in the last few years. We've raised minimum weights here in Kentucky, but certainly we want to be part of that discussion with the jockey, and with the entire industry. We do think it needs to be an industry wide response."

The jockeys are fighting in U.S. Federal Court to wear the Jockey's Guild union patch. Jockeys can make thousands of dollars Debby day if allowed to wear advertiser logos. Sellers alone stands to gain $30,000, and says it is a violation of his free speech rights not to be allowed to wear them.

The Horse Racing Authority says jockeys displaying logos from advertisers would be a detriment to the sport. Horse Racing Authority Attorney J. Bruce Miller says the sport -- as well as owners -- could be hurt. "That's why there are regulations."

Jockeys question whether a tasteful logo or patch would harm horse racing. "I don't think it would intervene with any other sponsors, obviously, we don't want to do that. It is just something to take care of us," said jockey Robby Albarado.

Jockey Tony D' Amico added: "People don't understand, it's a seven day a week job, cutthroat job, very cutthroat, very competitive ... we should be able to make a better living like anyone else."

Federal Judge John Heyburn questioned the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority over the actual harm it would cause if jockey's were permitted to wear logos or patches. Some witnesses in the courtroom speculate Judge Heyburn may allow them, if they conform to the rules of each racing track in Kentucky.

Churchill Downs has stated the Jockey's Guild patch does not violate its house rules. U.S. District Judge John Heyburn hinted he would likely rule on this controversial issue Wednesday afternoon.

"There's commercialism all over the racetrack," Heyburn said. "You can't have one regulation because you're a jockey and one regulation" for a track facility.

Other states, such as New York, California and Florida, permit jockeys to wear some ads, as well as the guild patch. Sellers and 13 other jockeys were fined $500 for wearing the guild patch during last year's Derby. They appealed the fine to a state court in Franklin County, though that case is pending.

Online Reporter: Craig Hoffman

Online Producer: Michael Dever