prevented from sponsoring jockeys at Derby
By staff
Free speech with strings attached -- Churchill Downs prevents from sponsoring jockeys at Derby

CHURCHILL DOWNS, MAY 1, 2004 -- After a district court judge ruled on Thursday that jockeys could wear advertising patches for this year’s Kentucky Derby, Internet casino attempted to sponsor several jockeys but was denied on account of the restrictions set by the Churchill Downs commission.

The ruling was a result of a lawsuit filed by seven jockeys against the new racing authority and the former Kentucky Racing Commission, arguing that rules prohibiting advertising and other insignias on jockeys are a violation of free speech. The lawsuit was filed last Friday after the racing authority turned down an earlier request to wear commercial advertising in the Derby.

“This situation is ironic to say the least,” said CEO Richard Rowe. “Based on Thursday’s ruling that allows jockeys to accept sponsorship, how can the commission dictate what sponsors are acceptable without violating the First Amendment themselves?”

“They certainly ought to have the same rights as golfers and tennis players,” said Ronald Sheffer, a lawyer for the jockeys. “There was no reason really to deny them that right.”

After the ruling became official, jumped at the chance to be the first cyber casino to sponsor a jockey in the Kentucky Derby.

“Ideally, we want to be the first to do everything,” said Rowe. “High-profile branding is something we have perfected.” has been involved in the fight against censorship before. In March of 2002, a Nevada District Court granted boxers the right to be compensated by wearing advertising tattoos, stating that the First Amendment protects such advertising. was the sponsor that supported the boxers’ fight for free speech.

“This is an important step in the battle against advertising censorship”, said Rowe. “Free speech should apply regardless of the nature of the sponsor. The jockeys have the right to be sponsored just like any other athlete.” has been making headlines for years with their unconventional marketing campaigns, including high profile stunts. Sponsored stuntmen, wearing ad tattoos on their bodies, have made appearances all over the world at many different events, most recently at the Super Bowl and World Figure Skating Championships.

“The Super Bowl, the US Open, the World Skating Championships, all these events have resulted in worldwide visibility and recognition of our brand” continued Rowe. “The Kentucky Derby would have been another milestone for us, but the commission didn’t like having us as a sponsor for the jockeys.”

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Raechel Peek, Lyceum Media, London UK

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