LAUREL -- Threat of a jockeys walkout tomorrow at Laurel Race Course and other racetracks throughout the United States and Canada ended last night after a daylong conference among representatives of the Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Jockeys' Guild.
Although no new contract was signed, sources said an agreement was imminent and a work stoppage would be averted. Mickey Solomone, East region manager for the Guild, said last night: "The riders are going to name on horses for Wednesday. Everything hasn't been finalized, but we didn't want to hold up racing."
The TRA issued a release that called negotiations "productive" and said its representatives were confident a contract would be signed today.
An apparent breakthrough in stalled negotiations came when the TRA essentially reversed itself on a proposal concerning the jockeys' publicity rights, the most contentious issue in renewing a contract that expires tonight at midnight. Ken Knelly, a TRA spokesman, said the TRA has agreed to keep the publicity rights in the new contract, but only with the understanding that, in doing so, their position is not prejudiced when the matter ultimately goes to court.
Last week, the Guild filed suit against the TRA in California over the rights. On Saturday, the TRA proposed that the Guild accept the exclusion of the rights from a new contract with a similar understanding in regard to non-prejudice.
Joe De Francis, Laurel president, said yesterday he would have been "absolutely amazed" if a walkout resulted. Laurel, like the majority of North American tracks, belongs to the TRA.
After talks ended last night at about 7:30, Knelly said that continuing negotiations among lawyers for both parties, along with insurance representatives, precluded finalization. But, "I don't think anyone sees things coming to a walkout," he said. "They should be able to settle things" today.
The most significant feature of a contract between racetracks and jockeys is insurance coverage. The new contract would be for three years, Knelly said.
In step with colleagues throughout the nation, Laurel jockeys agreed Sunday to refuse being named on horses for tomorrow's program, pending resolution. More than 90 percent of Maryland's regular riders are members of the Guild, a benevolent, non-unionized association.