The Run for the Roses Meets the First Amendment: An Overview of Desormeaux v. Kentucky Racing Commission

By William P. Barnette
October 01, 2004
In addition to an upset winner and nationwide sensation in Funny Cide, the 2003 Kentucky Derby produced a great deal of controversy. While the cheating allegations against, and subsequent exoneration of, winning jockey Jose Santos are well known, less so is another issue which may have significant ramifications for the future of horse racing. During the running of the Derby, Santos and thirteen of his fellow riders wore patches on their pants promoting the Jockeys’ Guild. The patches, which measured 3 by 5 inches, were determined by the Churchill Downs’ stewards to violate a regulation which prohibits jockeys from wearing during a race anything “‘not in keeping with the traditions of the turf.’” The stewards therefore fined each rider who wore the patch $500. Following an unsuccessful appeal to the Kentucky Racing Commission (the “Commission”), the jockeys have filed suit in Kentucky state court seeking to have the fines overturned. The suit raises a number of interesting First Amendment issues, which will be discussed below....