When Jeremy Rose appeared on the track for the 2005 Kentucky Derby with an advertisement for the gambling Web site ParadisePoker.com on his pants, the industry reacted with collective wrath. Never mind that Rose's fee for wearing that advertisement was donated to pediatric cancer research. Rose had crossed Big Brother and Big Brother was going to make him pay. The jockey was fined $5,000 and handed a 15-day suspension.
It was a heavy-handed penalty, too heavy-handed for Rose, the rider of Afleet Alex. He is fighting back. His attorney recently filed a petition in a Kentucky court to declare unconstitutional the state regulation governing the wearing of advertisements on jockeys' apparel. Lawyer Michael Goodwin contends that the rule violates Rose's right to free speech. Good for Jeremy Rose. Maybe now something can be done about racing's silly and counter-productive policies on jockeys wearing ads.
Kentucky isn't alone. Most states have some sort of regulations in place that either prevents jockeys from wearing ads or restricting what they can wear. In Rose's case, Churchill Downs objected to a jockey promoting an Internet poker site, reasoning that it was a competitor of Youbet.com, which was, back then, affiliated with Churchill. Apparently, Rose didn't take the proper steps with the proper people to get approval for the improper ad. Kent Desormeaux and Corey Nakatani were also penalized for daring to wear something on their pants without getting all the i's dotted and t's crossed.
That's just for the pants. No one has tried to try to wear an advertisement on his or her silks. I guess jockeys and owners figure they'd never get away with that because of racing's very strict rules on what riders can and cannot put on their outfits.
The thing is, not only should the sport let jockeys wear whatever they want (as long as the ads don't violate the tenets of good taste), racing should encourage it.
Racing certainly can't go wrong by copying everything that NASCAR has done. There's not one NASCAR driver that doesn't have ads plastered all over their jumpsuits and cars. Not only are the drivers and the teams they represent making serious money off the ads, the ads are actually part of the appeal of the sport. They help children and adults alike to identify their favorite products with their favorite drivers and vice versa.
My 8-year-old son started to follow NASCAR because he likes M&M's. What 8-year-old kid doesn't? He noticed that David Gilliland's suit and car are adorned with large M &M's logos and he watches races to root for the M&M's car. Might he, and thousands of kids like him, be more interested in horse racing if there was an M& M's horse to root for in the Kentucky Derby?
That, of course, would mean that ads would have to be worn not only on jockey pants but also on jockey silks. And why shouldn't they? If I'm an owner, say Robert La Penta, what right does Churchill Downs, The Jockey Club or the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority have to tell me I can't put whatever I want on the jockey's silks should War Pass run in the Kentucky Derby. It's La Penta's silks and La Penta's horse. He might have to enter into an agreement with the jockey to make it fly, but why shouldn't he be able to cash in on the horse's fame?
Why shouldn't War Pass' silks be adorned with an M&M's or Coca-Cola logo or even the message "Eat at Joe's Bar & Grille" in the Kentucky Derby or in any other race he participates in? Maybe, by being introduced to racing through placing ads on War Pass' silks, Coca-Cola, M&M's or whomever might want to get further involved in the sport, maybe by sponsoring races or taking out corporate tents at the Derby or Breeders' Cup.
It's well known that owning racehorses is, by and large, a losing proposition. If you gave owners the chance to make a few extra bucks by selling some ad space, maybe owners, overall, could fare better financially. Maybe that would induce a few more people to get involved in ownership, which, of course, would be good for the game.
At the very least, what harm could it possibly do to let jockeys wear whatever ads they want on their pants or to allow owners to take in a few bucks by allowing ads on the silks? And it might just do this sport some good. Go get 'em, Jeremy.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.