Braille Monitor                                                                                January 1986



Discrimination Goes to the Race Track and All in the Name of Safety

by Kenneth Jernigan

Recently I had occasion to ride on a bus, and while waiting to get aboard, I reviewed the small print on my ticket. There was a statement that the bus company had instituted certain rules for my "comfort, convenience, and safety." Since I knew what a leaky umbrella the word "safety" has become, I was curious as to what the bus company thought would enhance my "convenience, comfort, and safety." The fine print told me.

I was informed that the company would not be responsible for personal items which I inadvertently left on the bus. I pondered that one for a while and wondered to which of the three it referred. Was it my comfort, my convenience, or my safety. Then, there was the rule which told me that I could not be assured of having the same seat on the return trip that I had on the first part of the journey. Again, was it for my convenience, my comfort, or my safety? There were other things--if I missed the bus on the return trip, I could not get a refund; any failure to obey any of the rules could result in my being put off the bus at any time; and I must sit where instructed. Search as I might, I could find nothing in the whole list which had the slightest relation to my convenience or comfort, and certainly not to my safety. It was the usual jargon to justify whatever requirements the company officials wanted to make. Mind you, some of the requirements might have been reasonable, but that was beside the point. They were absolutely false in their representation. They underscored the fact that people can get away with almost anything in the name of "safety."

If a blind person is pushed around and humiliated on an airplane, it is not discrimination but a matter of safety. If a blind person is denied the right to rent an apartment, take a carnival ride, or apply for a job, it is not because of prejudice but safety. It happens every day and in hundreds of ways--almost to the point that we may become so conditioned that we take it for granted and submit without a murmur.

It happens in the home, the office, the factory, the streets--and also at the race track. What happens if a jockey has less than 20/20 vision? Is it reasonable to deny him the right to ride? Apparently Kentucky officials think so. Of course, it is not discrimination but safety. And also as might be expected, the National Federation of the Blind is taking a hand. Here is now the newspapers have reported it:

JANUARY 7, 1986

One-Eyed Jockey Fights Ban
by Jack Murray

An apprentice jockey who is blind in one eye says he will fight the Kentucky Racing Commission's decision to ban him from race riding at Latonia Race Course.

Charles Fletcher, 19, of Florence, said he began riding last August at Cincinnati's River Downs, where he had 15 mounts. Overall, Fletcher said he has ridden in 33 races with no winners, but 10 seconds. He also rode in one race at Keeneland last October.

"He came to us with a valid licence from Ohio," said Keene Daingerfield, a semi-retired Kentucky Racing Commission state steward who maintains steward duties at Keeneland. "I guess we should have noticed he might have some trouble when he showed up wearing these thick glasses."

Fletcher insists his impaired vision has not been a problem. After that race at Keeneland, however, Daingerfield had a Lexington ophthalmologist, Dr. John Garden, check him out. Dr. Garden submitted a written report stating that the teenager was legally blind in the right eye.

Fletcher worked as an exercise rider for trainer Harvey Vanier during the November meeting at Churchill Downs, then went to South Florida for about a month before resurfacing in Northern Kentucky.

Last Friday night and Saturday afternoon, Fletcher was denied permission to ride two horses at Latonia.

Fletcher said he will hire Florence lawyer Burr Travis to fight the decision by state steward Bernie Hettel. The apprentice jockey said that his eyesight has not caused him any problems in his past races and that his mounts have not caused bumping with other horses.

According to Fletcher, Hettel's major concern was that he might have a problem with night racing.

"There is no law that says a jockey cannot be blind in one eye," Fletcher said. "All the rest of the jockeys at Latonia are behind me."

Steve Neff, perennial leading rider at River Downs and Latonia, said he didn't know much about Fletcher's situation until last weekend.

"If he doesn't cause too much trouble or if nobody's complained about him being a hazard, I think he deserves a shot," Neff said.

Rick Norton, Director of the Kentucky Racing Commission, said Fletcher's impaired vision could post a danger during races, even if there is no rule specifically banning jockeys with vision problems from racing.

Daingerfield said the controversy over a one-eyed jockey is not without precedent. "There was a jockey named Pat Moore who rode in New England during the 1940's," Daingerfield said.

"There was a feeling among the other riders that he was unsafe.

"Fortunately or unfortunately, Moore got ruled off for being involved in fixed races. So, his eyesight no longer was a problem."

JANUARY 13, 1986

Blind Group Backs Jockey
by Jack Murray

Charles Fletcher, the one-eyed teenager denied an apprentice jockey license to race ride in Kentucky, continues to gain local and national support.

Charles Link, President of the Northern Kentucky Federation of the Blind in Covington, said Sunday night that his group has offered financial backing to Fletcher in his fight to reverse state steward Bernie Hettel's ban.

To start the appeal process rolling, Link said his group today will turn over a check for $500 to Fletcher's attorney, Burr Travis.

"We'll fight it as far as possible to get Mr. Fletcher back in the saddle," Link said.

Last Tuesday night at Latonia Race Course, Hettel ruled Fletcher was "unacceptable for licensing due to medical reasons." Fletcher has until Friday to appeal Hettel's decision to the Kentucky State Racing Commission.

If the racing commission doesn't overturn Hettel's decision, Link said the state chapter of the Federation of the Blind in Louisville will fund Fletcher's case before the Franklin Circuit Court in Frankfort. If Fletcher still receives no satisfaction, Link said the National Federation of the Blind, headquartered in Maryland, would take the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We'll take it one step at a time."1 Link said. "With the strength of the Federation, my brother Mark and I are hopeful, and even feel positive, this can be resolved in a few weeks and M. Fletcher can resume his riding career."

An administrator with the racing commission, Mike Fulkerson, said the racing commission welcomes a challenge from Fletcher in order for all the facts to be presented and so Hettel's judgment can be vindicated.

Since it is unlikely the racing commission will overrule Hettel, attorney Travis said, "Fletcher's future lies in the appellate court."

Meanwhile, former jockey Jimmy Nichols--associate steward at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans--reported that one of the top young jockeys currently riding in Louisiana has sight in only one eye. Tracy Hebert, 23, from Erath, La., was among the leaders at the recent thoroughbred meeting at Jefferson Downs and is off to a good start at the Fair Grounds meeting.

"He (Hebert) knows where he is on the track at all times and rides a clean race," said Nichols by telephone. "The loss of sight in one eye doesn't affect him at all."

Hebert's father, Eldridge Herbert Jr. is a horse trainer at Louisiana tracks.

Last autumn, Fletcher rode several races at River Downs and one at Keeneland before a question arose with his eyesight among stewards in Lexington, Ky.

Fletcher, 19, who lost sight in his right eye after a dart accident when he was 8, believes his presence on the track poses no danger to either himself or other jockeys. Indeed, there is nothing that specifically bars one-eyed jockeys in Kentucky racing rules.