LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jerry Bailey and four other jockeys don't know how their horses will run in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, but they've already scored a victory in Louisville.
A federal judge, ruling Thursday on a lawsuit filed by the five jockeys against the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, issued a temporary injunction that will allow the riders to wear advertising on their pants in the Derby. Later Thursday, the authority, which is the state agency that supervises racing, said that "in fairness" to other jockeys, it would allow all jockeys in Kentucky to wear advertising.
The ruling, by Judge John G. Heyburn III in U.S. District Court, means that Bailey, Alex Solis, Jose Santos, John Velazquez and Shane Sellers will be able to wear advertising in the Derby and other races. The five riders, who had lined up advertisers willing to pay them $30,000 apiece for the Derby, said that their 1st Amendment rights were being violated. Churchill Downs, reacting to directives from the authority, had told the riders last week that they would be ejected from the track if they wore advertising.
After the judge's ruling, Churchill released a list of house rules that would govern the advertising. The rules stipulate that jockeys cannot wear advertising that conflicts with existing track sponsorships.
Heyburn's decision, which came after two days of hearings earlier this week, also applied to jockeys Robby Albarado and Brian Peck, who had sued, along with Sellers, in a separate action. The second group of jockeys appealed to the court to wear the Jockeys' Guild patch on Derby day. Last year, apparently in violation of state regulations, 14 jockeys wore the union logos in the Derby and were fined $500 apiece by the authority. The jockeys have appealed the fines.
Ron Sheffer, an attorney for the Bailey group, said that Heyburn would hold another hearing within 30 days.
"What happened Thursday was just what it said, a temporary injunction," Sheffer said. "At the next hearing, both sides can introduce new testimony and arguments, and we'll go from there."
The sponsors for the five jockeys have not been announced, but Bailey has been closely connected with Wrangler jeans. Bailey advertised Wrangler on his pants and Santos displayed Budweiser on his at last year's Belmont Stakes in New York, where jockey advertising is permitted. California and Florida are other states that allow jockeys to advertise. Depending on what their horses do the remainder of the Triple Crown, and in major races later in the year, the five Derby jockeys' earnings from advertising could escalate into the six-figure range, perhaps as much as $250,000.
"Everyone is looking for additional revenue," said Eric Wright, vice president for research and development at Joyce Julies & Associates in Ann Arbor, Mich. "Traditional advertising is losing its appeal. Sponsors are looking at other ways to deliver that oomph."
Wright said that the jockeys might get between three and six minutes of screen time during NBC's telecast of the Derby.
"We've done research," Wright said, and ads on jockeys "don't do extremely well in terms of screen time, but what makes this valuable is that the Kentucky Derby is a national event. The sponsorship is very limited surrounding that event. A little screen time in this circumstance is a good thing because the opportunities are so limited."
Heyburn indicated during the hearing Tuesday that he might favor the jockeys.
"The problem," he told authority attorneys, is when you enforce the advertising ban "in a disparate manner."
Other advertising is permitted at Churchill Downs, which along with Pimlico and Belmont Park has a lucrative Triple Crown contract with Visa.
Heyburn's interpretation "will remain until such time as the court rules further, or until the authority has the opportunity to amend the current regulation through Kentucky's open, participatory process," said William Street, the chairman of the authority, in a statement.
Bailey was among the jockeys who testified at the hearing. He said the opportunity to wear advertising has existed in other states for years.
"The [authority's] argument was very weak, in my opinion," Bailey said. "They were hanging their hats on issues that didn't even exist. We are very sensitive to the traditions of our sport, and our goal is not to offend anyone. We have had no complaints in other states. Jockeys work very hard and risk their lives on a daily basis. We have earned the right to make additional income."
Times staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this report.