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Horse Racing / Bill Christine : Shoe Is Caught in Middle of Drug-Test Battle

July 24, 1986|BILL CHRISTINE

DEL MAR — Bill Shoemaker is in a strange position. Personally, Shoemaker is not opposed to random drug testing of jockeys, but he heads an organization that is fighting in the courts to prevent that very thing.

Shoemaker, who is president of the Jockeys' Guild, and four other riders are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the New Jersey Racing Commission. Two courts have ruled against the jockeys and said that the commission's policy of testing riders for drugs can continue.

Nick Jemas, the former rider who is managing director of the Jockeys' Guild, said this week that there is a good chance the guild will appeal the latest court decision to the United States Supreme Court.

Shoemaker said he is listed as one of the plaintiffs mainly because of his role with the guild. Another of the jockeys listed, Angel Cordero, was quoted as saying that he no longer wants to participate in the suit, having been influenced by the recent drug-related deaths of Len Bias, the University of Maryland basketball star, and Don Rogers of the Cleveland Browns.

Shoemaker said: "As far as I'm concerned, random testing for drugs is OK. I'm not opposed to that at all. But I'm just one guy."

Shoemaker added, however, that if the entire membership of the guild--about 1,700 riders--were polled, the majority of the jockeys would probably agree to testing.

"I don't think jockeys as a whole have a big problem with drugs," Shoemaker said. "There might be some isolated cases, but that's about all."

The Jockeys' Guild sued the New Jersey commission in April of 1985, shortly after tracks in the state began giving breath tests to every jockey before a race. The New Jersey tracks also ask three jockeys for urine samples at the end of each racing day. New Jersey also tests harness drivers for alcohol and drugs.

One of the points made by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently in approving testing was that jockeys need to be drug-free because otherwise they might be a hazard to other riders on the track.

"Nobody is more concerned about racing safety than the jockeys," Jemas said. "But what we've gotten is an asinine ruling. The court talked about the integrity of horse racing, but what about the integrity of the United States Constitution? The court decision didn't consider the invasion of privacy that comes with drug testing."

The Jockeys' Guild represents about 90% of the country's riders. Jemas said that the membership has never been polled on drug testing, but, unlike Shoemaker, he senses that most jockeys are opposed to it. Jemas even doubts that Cordero now favors drug testing.

"I know Angel Cordero," Jemas said. "He's in favor of rider safety and he's against random testing. I don't always believe what I read in the newspapers."

According to Ben Felton, an attorney who is chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, this state has an informal rule regarding drug testing of jockeys.

"If there is reasonable cause for a rider to be tested, we will ask him to submit to a test," Felton said. "A policy like the one they have in New Jersey has been discussed, and it may come up again. But I think we have to be careful about what we do.

"These jockeys are professional guys, and if you start testing them on a regular basis, where do you stop? Do you extend it to testing all backstretch employees and the people who work in the track offices?"

When Kenny Black started falling asleep in the jockeys' room before races and couldn't honor several of his riding commitments, he was tested in 1984 and eventually had his license revoked. Black has since regained riding status and is now competing in Minnesota.

Jemas approves of the California system. He says it is close to the policy that the Jockeys' Guild has presented for acceptance by all racing states.

The Orange County Fair, which finished a 13-night thoroughbred-quarter-horse meeting Monday night at Los Alamitos, showed substantial gains over last year in attendance and handle.

But a comparison with 1985 was difficult, because last year the fair ran October-November dates.

This year, the fair had an average nightly attendance of 7,705, and the average handle was $1.2 million. Attendance was up 27.8%, and the handle was 17.9% better than last year.

"Our dates were better, but there were other factors," said Bill Arballo, the fair's media coordinator. "We didn't have any more advertising money than last year, but I think we used it better. We made good use of the major media, because we had to get the word out that we were running at a different time.

"Obviously, people would rather attend night racing at the fair in the summer than they would in the fall. Another thing was Jim Priddy (the fair's assistant racing secretary). He's close to the horsemen, and he got a lot of horses from Santa Anita and Hollywood Park to run at the fair."

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