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Friday, April 30, 2004

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Twin Spires. Mint juleps. Thousands of fans singing "My Old Kentucky Home."

The Kentucky Derby now has a new tradition to start at 130-year-old Churchill Downs: ads plastered on jockeys' uniforms.

Two days before the world's most famous horse race, U.S. District Judge John Heyburn II ruled in favor of jockeys, blocking a state rule barring them from wearing ads. The judge agreed that the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority's regulation violated First Amendment rights.

Jockey Shane Sellers said letting corporate names take a ride with them could boost the sport. It also could become a financial bonanza.

"Look what happened to NASCAR," said Sellers, one of the jockeys who sued for the right to wear ads. "All of a sudden, NASCAR is one of the biggest sports. It's because of the endorsements. We need change, but in the end, I think everybody is going to be happy."

Some jockeys were offered up to $30,000 to wear a logo in the Derby.

While the judge's preliminary decision applied only to jockeys who sued -- including Jerry Bailey and Sellers -- the state racing authority and Churchill Downs later said all riders can wear ads.

"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."

Ads could be lucrative for jockeys. Some were offered up to $30,000 to wear a logo during the Derby.

Jockey Alex Solis, who will ride Master David in the Derby, said he lined up an advertising deal.

"It's great for us," said Solis, a plaintiff in the case. "We're finally catching up with the 2000s and moving out of the 1800s."

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