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Jockeys get to wear advertising

Posted: Friday, April 30, 2004

LOUISVILLE, Ky. The Twin Spires. Mint juleps. Thousands of fans singing ''My Old Kentucky Home.''

The Kentucky Derby now has a new tradition to start at 130-year-old Churchill Downs: ads plastered on jockeys' uniforms.

Two days before the world's most famous horse race, U.S. District Judge John Heyburn II ruled in favor of jockeys, blocking a state rule barring them from wearing ads. The judge agreed that the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority's regulation violated First Amendment rights.

Jockey Shane Sellers said letting corporate names take a ride with them could boost the sport. It also could become a financial bonanza.

''Look what happened to NASCAR,'' said Sellers, one of the jockeys who sued for the right to wear ads. ''All of a sudden, NASCAR is one of the biggest sports. It's because of the endorsements. We need change, but in the end, I think everybody is going to be happy.''

While the judge's preliminary decision applied only to jockeys who sued including Jerry Bailey and Sellers the state racing authority and Churchill Downs later said all riders can wear ads.

''They certainly ought to have the same rights as golfers and tennis players,'' said Ronald Sheffer, a lawyer for the jockeys. ''There was no reason really to deny them that right.''

Ads could be lucrative for jockeys. Some were offered up to $30,000 to wear a logo during the Derby.

Jockey Alex Solis, who will ride Master David in the Derby, said he lined up an advertising deal.

''It's great for us,'' said Solis, a plaintiff in the case. ''We're finally catching up with the 2000s and moving out of the 1800s.''

One advertising expert said the decision could create a stampede of advertisers trying to get deals with jockeys.

''It's a tremendous opportunity (and) will give a renewed interest for the whole sport,'' said Peter Arnell, chairman and chief creative officer of Arnell Group in New York, which specializes in brand consultancy and advertising.

He predicted luxury goods companies would be especially attracted to the sport.

Jockeys said they'll look for tasteful ads.

Bailey, a two-time Derby winner who will ride Wimbledon on Saturday, said jockeys are ''very sensitive to the traditions of our sport and our goal is not to offend anyone.''

''Jockeys work very hard and risk our lives on a daily basis. We have earned the right to make additional income,'' he said.

Sellers and Bailey have said ads would be placed on the right pants leg, where the most TV exposure is possible.

William Street, chairman of the state authority, said the decision to wear ads shouldn't be left only to the jockeys.

''The horse's owner, who pays all bills, should be an active participant in the decision-making process on advertising worn by jockeys,'' Street said.

Churchill Downs laid out rules, including barring sponsors it deems ''inappropriate'' or ''offensive;'' companies that offer telephone and Internet wagering, casinos or other gaming companies; or companies that compete with track sponsors.

The track said it would take ''appropriate'' action against any jockey violating the restrictions. It didn't specify penalties.

In a separate case, Heyburn ruled that all jockeys can wear a patch with the name of the 1,100-member Jockeys' Guild.

Several jockeys were fined $500 for wearing the guild patch during last year's Derby. They appealed the fine to a state court; that case is pending.

Heyburn said he would schedule another hearing within 30 days to decide whether to make Thursday's ruling final.

Attorneys for the state racing authority argued during a two-day hearing that letting jockeys wear ads could lead to corruption. They also argued that the presence of ads or other patches could hamper racing officials' ability to determine a winner in a tight finish or whether a foul was committed.

Other states, including New York, California and Florida, already let jockeys wear ads and the guild patch.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher said the legal fight was diverting attention from the race. Fletcher urged the racing authority to work with jockeys, owners and others to develop rules that ''protect the integrity of horse racing'' while allowing economic opportunity for everyone.

In his order, Heyburn said the free-speech rights of jockeys outweighed the state's concerns of limiting its regulatory power.

''The regulatory process can be repaired and its provisions amended, if need be,'' Heyburn wrote. ''Once lost in a crucial moment, the First Amendment right, even as to commercial speech, is difficult to recapture.''

Jockey Pat Day, not part of either lawsuit, said he wasn't opposed to jockeys wearing ads. He said some guidelines were needed to ''keep us from turning into walking billboards.''

Day said owners should get a share of income from the jockey ads.

''They're the ones who pay the bill,'' he said. ''Not all the owners make a lot of money.''

Day, who will ride Minister Eric in the Derby, said he hadn't been approached by a corporate sponsor, but he would consider an offer.

''The industry is going through some dramatic changes,'' he said. ''It would be nice to stick with tradition, but we also have to do what's best for the game and the longevity of the game.''

AP Sports Writer Chris Duncan contributed to this report.



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