Friday, March 21, 2003

Pins not all-access passes to Derby

Racing commissioners' perk curtailed

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Kentucky Derby patrons who receive pins from members of the Kentucky Racing Commission will have limited access to Churchill Down on its biggest day of the year.

Following Derby tradition, members of the commission have been allowed to distribute a number of official racing commission pins that could be used as all-access Derby passes by anyone.

However, John Asher, spokesman for Churchill Downs, said the track decided to rein in that perk this week.

"We had some concerns. We suggested that we make them basically general admission," Asher said. "That will get you in the door."

Last year, Churchill Downs had to ask some pin-wearers, who were clearly not racing commission members, to leave the Derby paddock, the press box and the grandstand roof.

"Every inch of the premises is prime real estate on Derby Day," Asher said. "There was a concern that people that pay top-dollar for their seats were not getting to see the race."

The racing commission provided the Lexington Herald-Leader with a list of people sent pins last year. It included former governors, former racing commissioners, commission office staff, cabinet secretaries, a congressman and a former senator.

Richard Beliles, president of the watchdog group Common Cause of Kentucky, called the pin gifts "very questionable."

"It may not directly impact the taxpayers, but it's not good for the people they pay to be getting something above and beyond their salaries like that," Beliles said Wednesday. "Why should they get a benefit like that?"

Racing Commission Chairman Frank Shoop said it has been traditional to give out pins. "I'm not the chairman that's going to stop tradition and have people after my head," Shoop said.

Bernard J. Hettel, the racing commission's executive director and chief steward, said 400 pins were ordered last year.

The pins are paid for by commissioners' stipends.

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