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Washington hearing on jockeys issues

Coverage of the two Washington hearings on jockeys' issues in the fall of 2005. Also media coverage of related issues during the period.

(Please understand that as time goes on some links might become inactive. We have no control over that.)

Media news/links from the original 2004 jockeys' insurance controversy can be found at our 2004 Kentucky Jockey Insurance Controversy Archive.

Washington hearing on jockeys issues

Part 2, November 17, 2005
Congressman to racing officials: "There are a lot of strong arguments for some uniformity and for some federal oversight."... DC hearing into jockeys' issues continued on Thursday

>>> Bloodhorse coverage
>>> TTimes coverage
>>> Official govt website, House of Representatives, The Committee on Energy and Commerce: Thoroughbred Horse Racing Jockeys and Workers: Examining On-Track Injury Insurance and Other Health and Welfare Issues [click on witness names to find link to each of their prepared opening statements]

>>> Show me the money!... Dr G alleged to have written checks totaling $217K to himself and to other employees of his consulting company on Tuesday -- the day he was fired


>>> Dr G ousted... John Velazquez, "We need to know where the guild stands, and right now, we don't know much."


>>> Jockeys face more insurance problems... New concerns about the self-insured medical plan
>>> Embattled Gertmenian: "I promised everybody as I went around the country the heat would fall on my head and I wouldn't quit."

Washington hearing on jockeys issues

October 18, 2005
Hearing: House of Representatives, The Committee on Energy and Commerce: Thoroughbred Horse Racing Jockeys and Workers: Examining On-Track Injury Insurance and Other Health and Welfare Issues

by Seth Merrow

>>> Official govt website, House of Representatives, The Committee on Energy and Commerce: Thoroughbred Horse Racing Jockeys and Workers: Examining On-Track Injury Insurance and Other Health and Welfare Issues
>> VIDEO ARCHIVE: Complete hearing is archived at Committee link above

News coverage of 10/18/05 hearing:
>>> Lousiville Courier-Journal
>>> Lexington Herald-Leader
>>> LA Times
>>> Baltimore Sun
>>> Bloodhorse
>>> DRF
>>> ... More DRF
>>> TTimes
>>> AP article
>>> ...More from AP

>>> Business Week takes a look at jockeys insurance issue on eve of hearings in Washington

Please understand that as time goes on some links to outside sources might become inactive. We have no control over that.

The hearing convened at approximately 11am ET. It continued, without recess, until about 5:30pm ET.

All witnesses were asked if they brought legal counsel and if their attorney's would be testifying. Then all witnesses were asked if they objected to being placed under oath. None objected, so all testimony given during the Tuesday hearing was done so under oath.

There were three panels during the day:

Panel One

Panel Two Panel Three The members of Congress that participated in the hearing were:

The proceedings opened with the participating members of Congress offering opening statements. Rep Whitfield indicated the purpose of the hearing in his statement (Click here for written version of opening statement) -- basically saying that the Committee was looking into the issue of jockeys' insurance as well as the management of the Jockeys' Guild since it was headed by Dr. L. Wayne Gertmenian and Matrix.

Panel One

After opening statements by the members of Congress, Gary Birzer and his wife Amy were sworn in. Gary went through his life since his accident -- and his dealing with the Jockeys' Guild during that time. His wife Amy gave an emotional reading of her opening statement which also covered their lives since Gary's accident and their dealings with the Jockeys' Guild: Promises made, promises broken.

For the most part the Birzers offered a compelling first-person look at the problem of the lack of catastrophic insurance for jockeys in some jurisdictions (some are covered by workers' comp). However, it seemed as though many of the members of Congress on the panel were unclear as to the basics of the problems before them -- with off-track family health insurance as opposed to on-track catastrophic insurance leading to much confusion throughout the hearing.

Panel Two

For the most part Panel Two allowed past Guild members to offer up a history of the transition from the Giovanni-era to the Gertmenian/Matrix-era. Most of this testimony cast a negative light on the Gertmenian/Matrix leadership, capped by the statement of Chris McCarrron -- who was the jockey that recommended bringing Gertmenian in and lead the move to oust Giovanni -- "Bringing Dr Gertmenian into the mix was the worst mistake I have ever made."

The "anti-Gertmenian" contingent was balanced by current Jockeys' Guild board members David Shepherd and Tomey-Jean Swan.

Jerry Bailey, Pat Day, John Giovanni and Chris McCarron all appeared well-prepped and provided competent testimony. David Shepherd, as opposed to all other witnesses, worked without a prepared statement in front of him and thus rambled a little in his opening remarks.

Again, some of the Congressional panel members seemed confused on the issue -- although as more Q&A took place they were slowly but surely seeming to get up to speed, for the most part.

As far as catastrophic insurance it seemed to be a consensus that the jockeys were unaware that their on-track insurance had lapsed. It was also noted that no one seemed to remember the board having voted on letting it lapse. And minutes from those meetings where the issue might have been discussed might or might not exist -- and if they do nobody knows where they are.

The panel ended with Rep Stupak making an extended statement advising Guild board members to seek legal counsel because he felt that perhaps they had not lived up to their responsibilities. He went on to suggest workers' comp on a national level for jockeys, as well as allowing jockeys collective bargaining, and bringing OSHA into the mix to study safety at tracks.

Panel Three

As Panel Three opened Dr Gertmenian provided the most bizarre moment in the proceedings. Clearly, from the opening statements by the members of Congress, and presumably, from any contact witnesses had had previously with this panel, the purpose of this hearing was to concentrate on jockeys' insurance issues and the management of the Jockeys' Guild since Gertmenian/Matrix took over. Strangely then, Dr Gertmenian used his time for opening remarks to talk about the jockeys' scale of weights. It was very strange.

But it was during Panel Three that most of the fireworks took place. There was extensive scrutiny of Dr Gertmenian's resume -- eventually leading Rep Barton to declare of certain parts of it, "We think it's a complete fabrication."

Barton also took a closer look at the financial statements provided by the Guild and questioned Gertmenian about his company Matrix. It was revealed that Matrix actually has no employees, other than Gertmenian. Although "Dr G" didn't consider himself an employee because he doesn't get paid by Matrix. Barton responded, "You've got $335,000!"

Eventually Barton said, "If I was a dues paying member of the Guild I'd want new management," and called the situation "an absolute disgrace." As other Representatives questioned Panel Three it became clear that those sentiments were held by most.

Rep Whitfield brought the proceedings to a close and stated that further hearings on the matter would be held with representatives from other areas of the industry (presumably racetrack owners).

In his closing remarks Whitfield commented that he didn't think the jockeys were any better off under the current Guild management. After the gavel came down the mics were still 'live' briefly and Albert Fiss could be heard remarking incredulously, "A dozen racetracks with a million dollars in on-track insurance now and the jockeys haven't been improved?"


In the end we as fans have to come away with mixed feeling if we're willing to look at the issue closely enough. As this issue hit the news many months ago the internet fan forums had plenty of comments wondering why the jocks would choose to keep the Gertmenian/Matrix management -- particularly as the questions about his resume arose.

But the closing comments of Albert Fiss are instructive. If the goal of the jockeys was to get the tracks to pick up their on-track insurance then perhaps they're satisfied with current Guild management -- since some tracks have already upped their policies to $1 million and the question has moved into the spotlight in the industry which has the tracks that haven't upped their policies at least looking into it. Jockeys also had to be please with the remarks of Rep Stupak, as noted above, regarding national workers' comp (in fact David Shepherd stood and applauded those comments by Stupak). Would this have occurred under the previous management? Or different management?

But the jockeys have to ask: Do the ends justify the means? Albert Fiss says he told Amy Birzer that her husband Gary was being used as a 'guinea pig'. More likely he was mistaken with his metaphor and he meant 'sacrificial lamb'. Jockey Shane Sellers was quoted last year saying, "After going to this year's (Guild) meeting, we all know (Guild chief executive officer Dr. Wayne Gertmenian) and his team will win this war. To win this war, we're going to lose some soldiers and I choose not to be one." If the jockeys were willing to accept this war analogy then Gary Birzer was just a casualty of war. But again, do the ends justify the means? Was it OK to use the tragedy of one jockey to bring attention to this issue? Can the jockeys that bought into this mentality feel good watching Gary and Amy Birzer struggle to regain their lives, all the while facing the extreme financial burdens placed on them by this "plan"?

And, in light of much of the information given the light of day by Tuesday's Congressional hearing -- if we're to hold true to the war analogy -- with the revelations of career history inconsistencies, questions about finances, and the fact that minutes of many Guild board meetings seem strangely non-existent and unavailable for review to see just who said what and when, is the leader of the Guild a General Patton, or a Captain Queeg?

Written opening statements [pdf format]:

Audio Clips

Chris McCarron apologizes to John Giovanni [:12]

Chris McCarron declares that bringing Dr Gertmenian onboard was a mistake [:06]

Rep Burgess scolds Dr Gertmenian for claiming he's 'overwhelmed' [:34]

Rep Stupak's statement regarding national workers' comp for jockeys, etc [1:57]

Rep Barton examines excerpts from Dr Gertmenian's resume... "We think it's a complete fabrication." [1:48]

Rep Barton asks Dr Gertmenian about his credentials as a professor in China [:30]

Rep Barton looks at Matrix and hiring of Gertmenian's daughter [1:12]

Rep Barton continues examining Matrix... Wraps up his examination calling the situation "an absolute disgrace" [3:25]

Rep Stupak asks Dr Gertmenian if he promised to personally help the Birzers -- and if so, did he? [:33]

Rep Whitfield asks Amy Brizer about Albert Fiss calling her husband a 'guinea pig'. Whitfield goes on to comment on the lack of on-track insurance and the responsibility of the Guild [1:48]

Rep Burgess asks Albert Fiss if he actually called Gary Birzer a 'guinea pig' [:51]

Albert Fiss -- mic still open -- after hearing ends, "A dozen racetracks with a million dollars in on-track insurance now and the jockeys haven't been improved?"


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