Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Jockeys hopeful of OK to wear corporate logos

Kentucky Derby notebook

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LOUISVILLE - Shane Sellers sports interlocking dollar signs on his collar, a play on his initials.

Yet the crusade he and some fellow jockeys are leading to wear corporate logos Saturday in the Kentucky Derby is not, Sellers insists, just about his payday.

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"This is about allowing corporate America into the game of racing," he said, "instead of needing (video) slot machines for the sport to make money."

It's also about fairness, he said. Sellers is one of seven jockeys suing the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority in federal court, seeking to overturn a state rule that they claim violates their free-speech rights.

Sellers notes that Visa has an ad on the Derby horses' saddlecloths, and Toyota's emblem graces the same spot for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

"All we're asking for is the same opportunity," Sellers said.

Sellers, Jerry Bailey and Jose Santos testified that they stand to make more than $100,000 each from wearing ads on their pants legs. Jockey advertising is permitted in New York, California, Florida and Maryland.

Sellers and two other jockeys want the right to wear a Jockeys' Guild emblem in other Kentucky races to promote the plight of disabled jockeys. Fourteen riders were fined $500 each after wearing guild patches during last year's Derby. Their appeal is pending in Franklin Circuit Court.

J. Bruce Miller, attorney for the racing authority, argued in court Monday that the regulation allows racing officials to see the area where a potential infraction - such as a jockey holding an illegal object or impeding another horse - is likely to occur. Richard Leigh, a Churchill Downs steward, testified that officials might not be able to distinguish between a flesh-colored patch and a rider's hand, or a black patch and a rider's whip.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II said he might rule before Saturday.

Some jockeys, including Sellers, are also protesting the KHRA's enforcement of a Kentucky helmet rule. Many jockeys have worn helmets different than the ones mandated, which they say are uncomfortable and unsafe.

ODDS: Mike Battaglia, the Derby odds maker from Edgewood, Ky., said he would make The Cliff's Edge a 4-1 favorite when he sets the morning line today. Smarty Jones will be 9-2, and Tapit will be third choice "at 6-1 or 8-1," he said. This is Battaglia's 30th year as the race's handicapper. The only higher price he set for a favorite was 9-2 for Ohio-bred champion Harlan's Holiday in 2002. He was a 6-1 post-time choice, highest in Derby history.

HOPES WANE: Barring scratches today, Derby hopefuls Eddington and Rock Hard Ten will be left out. Those two rank 21st and 22nd, respectively, in graded earnings among horses expected to be entered. The field is limited by that criterion to the top 20.



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