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National company dumps jockey insurance in Montana

A national company that arranged insurance for race jockeys in Montana this year has dropped all four of the state’s race tracks for 2007, leaving the tracks scrambling to find another insurance provider.

The Montana tracks were among 19 tracks around the country that Mather & Co. of Philadelphia dropped, said Scot Meader, director of the Missoula County Fairgrounds, one of the Montana tracks that lost its coverage.

Meader said he fears that even if another insurance company will write a policy, the cost could be too high. He said one estimate he received from California put the cost as high as $8,000 to $10,000 per day, compared with $2,000 per race day this year.

Small tracks especially are having trouble finding insurance. It’s been even more of a problem for the Missoula track, which has had quite a few jockey injuries and claims in the past five years.

News of the canceled insurance comes as Gov. Brian Schweitzer included $350,000 in his proposed budget for the next two years to bolster horse racing in Montana. But a final decision rests with the 2007 Legislature.

Kalispell dropped horse racing this year when jockey insurance went from $1,000 to $2,000 per race day and the per-accident deducible jumped from $1,000 to $10,000. Missoula County officials approved racing for 2006, but haven’t made a decision for 2007. The Missoula County Fair Commission has asked Meader to see if another insurance provider can be secured.

Billings, Great Falls and Miles City also are searching for insurance, and the four tracks will work together, Meader said.

“Jockey insurance is really the key right now,” said Buck Smith, chairman of the fair commission. Come January, “If we’ve exhausted every possibility for jockey insurance and there is none, there is no decision to be made.”

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