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Jockey Removed Amid Boycott Threat

Times Staff Writer

Jockey Shane Sellers, who has won more than 4,000 races, many of them at Churchill Downs, was escorted from the Louisville track in handcuffs Sunday by track security, preventing him from participating in an informational meeting with fellow riders about their insurance coverage.

No charges were filed, and no official reason was given for his removal.

Sellers, reached at his home Sunday night, said that he had been called to the jockeys’ room by other jockeys, many of whom plan to boycott the Churchill races to bring attention to what they consider inadequate accident insurance.

Sellers hasn’t ridden since early October, when he said that there wasn’t enough insurance provided by the industry and that he and many other riders couldn’t afford to buy their own coverage.

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On the Churchill Downs entry sheet for Wednesday, jockeys are listed for only 65 of the 122 horses scheduled to run. Sellers said that 80% of the riders there are prepared to boycott.

Steve Sexton, president of Churchill, met with many of the jockeys Sunday night and told them that if they refuse to ride the Thursday card, they will be banned for the rest of the meet. Entries will be taken and jockeys assigned on Tuesday for the Thursday races.

John Asher, vice president for racing communications at Churchill, said that Churchill would run 10 races on Wednesday as scheduled.

Among the jockeys not listed to ride on Wednesday are Rafael Bejarano and Robby Albarado, who are among the national leaders in purses.

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Bejarano, with 415 wins through last Thursday, leads the country in that category. According to Asher, Bejarano and Albarado were among the riders who told Sexton on Sunday night that they also planned to boycott the Thursday races, inviting the meet-long ban.

Jockeys listed to ride on Wednesday include Pat Day, Brice Blanc and Larry Melancon. Day resigned as president of the Jockeys’ Guild a few years ago, and since then the union that represents more than 1,200 riders nationwide has been unable to supply its members with accident insurance. The tracks themselves insure riders with up to $100,000 in coverage.

Injuries to veteran jockey Tony D’Amico last Wednesday at Churchill may have triggered the boycott. D’Amico, still hospitalized, suffered a punctured lung, a fractured collarbone and four broken ribs.

“A few days ago, John Asher was quoted as saying I was a class act and a standup guy, and they couldn’t wait to see me back riding,” Sellers said. “Now they do this to me. It was a real slap in the face. The fans saw me led away from there like that, and some of my fellow riders were crying about it. It was embarrassing, degrading, absurd -- all those things. I gave up 13 years of my life to ride at Churchill Downs.”

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Sellers said that the Jockeys’ Guild was considering legal action against Churchill Downs on his behalf. Asher said Sellers had been banned indefinitely from the track. Sellers said he is still licensed to ride in Kentucky.

California-based Gary Stevens declined to ride in the Breeders’ Cup, at Lone Star Park near Dallas on Oct. 30, because of what he described as inadequate insurance coverage. Later, Lone Star secured supplementary insurance that increased the coverage from $100,000 to $500,000 for Breeders’ Cup day. Stevens said that he would not ride in states that don’t cover the jockeys through workers’ compensation. Those five states include California.

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Penny’s Fortune went to the lead leaving the gate and stayed there for a half-length win over Seeking The Heart in the $62,725 Audrey Skirball-Kenis Stakes at Hollywood Park. Sweet Win, the favorite, finished third.

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