NYRA: Belmont Jockeys’ Actions ‘Unreasonable,’ ‘Relentless Focus On Safety’ A Top Priority

The following is a statement authored by NYRA director of communications Pat McKenna, regarding the incident prior to the races at Belmont Park on Saturday, and the Jockeys’ Guild’s response on Monday.

In late December, NYRA and the Jockeys’ Guild negotiated and subsequently announced an agreement in principal on a new contract. Following that announcement, the Guild backed away from the agreed upon terms sending both sides back to the negotiating table. Since that time, NYRA has been working with the Guild and their attorney in good faith toward a resolution. NYRA has continued to make payments at the same level as was required in the contract without any obligation to do so – a clear demonstration of our commitment to the jockeys and their safety.

NYRA has consistently demonstrated its commitment to act in the best interests of the sport and of the jockeys. NYRA has spent considerable sums to make our race tracks 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 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.

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.

NYRA strongly disagrees with the assertions leveled by the Jockeys’ Guild on Monday evening. For example, the Guild states that NYRA provides inadequate medical staffing during racing and training. However, NYRA has paramedics on-site during morning training hours as well as during live racing at all NYRA tracks.

  • Regarding the scale of weights, and as the Guild well knows, this an issue that cannot be approached in a vacuum and needs to be addressed comprehensively by tracks around the country and in consultation with owners and trainers.
  • The issue of concussion protocols should be addressed in the context of a national conversation that should be held with stakeholders and regulators from across the industry to properly assess how best to move forward.

All three NYRA tracks have undergone significant capital improvements designed to improve the health and safety of the jockey colony and exercise riders. NYRA is committed to providing the best and safest facilities for riders training in the morning and competing in the afternoon. That is why NYRA has invested more than more than $20 million in capital improvements and enhancements to improve safety at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.

While many of the projects are apparent, such as the improvements and expansion of the Belmont turf courses and complete renovation of the Belmont Training Track in 2016, others are not as obvious but vital to the safety of NYRA’s riders. These include installation of loose horse warning light systems and weather stations at all three tracks and the installation of new Duralock safety rails at the Aqueduct dirt track and the Belmont Park training track, giving riders an extra degree of protection. Likewise, upgrades to irrigation systems and use of turf blankets at Aqueduct and Belmont Park are both central to promoting the growth of healthy, consistent racing surfaces. NYRA has expanded its fleet of new support vehicles that it uses at all three tracks

These investments reflect NYRA’s relentless focus on safety over the last five years. Wherever possible, NYRA has upgraded to state-of-the-art safety products and procedures. NYRA has not wavered from this commitment to continuously improving our facilities, protocols, and procedures with a focus on safety.

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