Churchill Downs Inc., trying to protect its tracks from possible jockey walkouts that could include the Kentucky Derby, announced Thursday that it was suing the Jockeys' Guild.
The suit, filed against the 1,200-member guild in a federal court in Louisville, seeks injunctions that would prevent a riders' boycott similar to what happened in November at Churchill Downs and one of its sister tracks, Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind.
Fourteen jockeys declined to ride on Nov. 7 at Churchill, forcing trainers to hire replacement riders, and five days later 14 riders walked out 10 minutes before the first race at Hoosier. The Indiana track canceled that night's card. The jockeys who didn't ride were banned by the tracks for the balance of their seasons.
In its suit, Churchill's parent company accuses the guild of organizing both walkouts and says jockeys, as independent contractors, are not allowed to disrupt a company's business and were in violation of antitrust laws.
Asked during a teleconference whether Churchill feared problems on Kentucky Derby day, which is May 7, Andy Skehan, chief operating officer of CDI, said: "I can't say that [the Derby] hasn't influenced our decision. If we don't hold the guild responsible, they will try to employ similar tactics in the future."
Guild officers didn't return calls seeking comment. The guild issued a statement that denied it had orchestrated the November walkouts.
"The guild and its representatives publicly stated that their actions were taken to pressure the racetracks and to provide higher on-track medical insurance," Skehan said.
Skehan said that Churchill was trying to increase the accident insurance at its tracks from $100,000 to $1 million. At Hollywood Park, which is a Churchill track, jockeys are covered by workers' compensation insurance. Jockeys are covered by workers' comp in five states -- California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Idaho.
According to Skehan, Churchill has been paying the guild about $375,000 a year as part of an industry contribution for jockeys' insurance. Skehan said his company would discontinue that payment.
"We need to be certain that moneys contributed on behalf of jockeys are spent on behalf of jockeys," Skehan said. "Since the guild will not explain where the money is going, we are withholding this funding and exploring possibilities for redirecting it in a manner that would be beneficial to the jockeys. We are taking issue with guild management rather than the riders."
In the suit, Churchill said that tracks around the country spent more than $5 million in premiums to insure jockeys in 2004. The guild allowed its accident coverage to lapse in 2002.
"Churchill sees no justification for the lapse," the suit said, "because racetracks pay [fees] directly to the guild which total an estimated cumulative amount of $2.2 million annually. Presumably, the guild concluded that on-track accident insurance for its members is not a sufficiently high priority for use of the $2.2 million."