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Wednesday, November 17
NTRA forms health insurance review panel

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has formed a health insurance review panel that includes jockeys and Churchill Downs officials, who are locked in a benefits dispute.

The jockeys and their union are pushing for Churchill Downs to offer supplemental insurance coverage to riders. The jockeys say injuries during racing can bring astronomical hospital bills.

Churchill covers the first $100,000 in medical expenses from an injury, but jockeys pay for any additional coverage.

NTRA officials said Tuesday that the panel, which includes racing officials from around the country, will not serve as a negotiating body between jockeys and tracks.

Keith Chamblin, an NTRA marketing executive and a member of the panel, said its initial goal will be "a frank exchange of information and relevant facts" about insurance coverage.

"At the beginning, we'll meet on a regular ongoing basis -- hopefully until we find some resolution or some industrywide plan," Chamblin said.

The 32-member panel, which meets for the first time Monday, includes Churchill Downs president Steve Sexton and Darrell Haire, a representative for the 1,200-member Jockey's Guild.

Churchill Downs banned about a dozen jockeys from its fall meet earlier this month after the riders threatened a boycott. The jockeys complained that Churchill's injury benefit isn't enough. Other tracks offer similar coverage, including Churchill-owned Hoosier Park, which ejected 10 jockeys on Saturday.

"We've always recognized that this has been a very legitimate issue and an issue that is worthy of serious discussion and action," said John Asher, Churchill Downs' vice president of communications.

Asher said the panel will view the insurance issue as an industrywide problem -- not one that affects only Churchill Downs or Kentucky.

"If it's going to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction, it must be resolved on an industrywide basis with a consensus from all areas of the industry," Asher said.

Five states, but not Kentucky, cover injured jockeys through workers' compensation.

Mark Guidry, one of the jockeys ejected from Churchill for the fall meet, said most riders don't earn enough to purchase their own supplemental insurance.

A diagram of jockey earnings published Sunday in The Courier-Journal showed that most -- more than 1,300 of the 1,887 who rode in 2003 -- earned less than $30,000 that year. It also said the top 100 jockeys share about 50 percent of the total purse money.

The NTRA panel includes two of racing's most successful jockeys, Pat Day and Jerry Bailey, and David Switzer of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association.

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