Pound for pound, jockeys are among the strongest athletes on the planet. These 110-pound riders are entrusted to control 1,000-pound racehorses, and they do so with tremendous strength and deft hands.

It’s something of a jockey’s code, something they don’t speak about. But each time a jockey mounts a Thoroughbred in a horse race they literally hold their lives inside those hands.

Nearly 30 years have passed since Mike Venezia lost his life in a tragic accident at Belmont Park. Though improved safety equipment for jockeys is now mandatory, it is hardly life-saving. Any injury could end a career, or worse.

Because this occupation is so dangerous, insurance premiums are extremely high; indeed the equivalent of a professional football player in the National Football League.

In an attempt to assist horsemen meet a huge financial burden of skyrocketing insurance costs—especially in New York--and to help fill races, the New York Racing Association and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association developed a symbiotic plan.

At Aqueduct’s upcoming winter meeting, December 6 through March 31, 2018, through NYRA auspices, horsemen will receive a $300 credit to help pay any outstanding balances in the New York Jockey Injury Compensation Fund for workmen’s compensation insurance to trainers whose horses race but do not gain a large slice of the purse money.

*The funding for the $300 Per Start Credit Program does not come from NYRA, it comes entirely from horsemen's purse money. The idea for the program came from NYTHA. While NYRA is in support of the program, they are neither the catalyst nor the source of the funding.

In New York, the winner currently gets 60% of the purse, with 20% for second, 10% for third, five percent for fourth and three percent for fifth.

Under this arrangement, the remainder of the field will split two percent of the purse among also-rans finishing sixth or worse. NYRA will guarantee that $300 minimum to these remaining horses.

Safety equipment and concussion protocols will be among the issues discussed at The Jockeys' Guild Annual Assembly next month in Las Vegas. Venezia was a Guild representative for many years and led many discussions on the safety issue.

Sadly, the reality is that no piece of equipment could have saved Venezia, who was killed instantly when kicked in the face by a trailing horse. His helmet remained intact.

An updated Boston University study published in July found that 110 of 111 brains of former NFL players suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative brain disease found in individuals who have been exposed to repeated head trauma.

There is no way for any external protection device to keep the brain from banging around inside the skull. Indeed, the new study could result in a challenge to the durability of the league’s $1-billion concussion settlement with former NFL players.

League executives are viewing the study with caution. They have never admitted football causes CTE and will not while litigation continues. Both sides have lawyered up and if the NFL admits that CTE causes brain damage it will have to own that finding. Even in a league with deep pockets, that cost could be unaffordable.

Thoroughbred racing is in the same position as the NFL yet leaders of the Jockeys Guild and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund have had no problem conceding that CTE is a risk for riders.

When retired jockey Gwen Jocson was diagnosed with the brain disease superficial siderosis, due to multiple falls on the track, she was not considered totally disabled. Her doctor says she likely has CTE but current technology only can determine CTE post-mortem.

When Jocson applied to the PDJF for financial assistance in 2016, she was told she wasn’t qualified for assistance.

“In prior instances the PDJF has awarded benefits to injured jockeys for disabling medical condition such as paraplegia, quadriplegia, and brain damage associated with a single catastrophic on-track accident [where] injuries were immediately apparent,” said Nancy LaSala of the PDJF in a 2016 Lexington Herald Leader report.

Hall of Fame jockey Ramon Dominguez won his third consecutive Eclipse Award as leading rider in 2012, but missed the award ceremony in Florida the following January because he suffered brain trauma in a spill at Aqueduct. He ultimately retired later in 2013.

It is no small irony that Dominguez later received the Mike Venezia Award for extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship. At that ceremony, NYRA CEO Christopher Kay gave a $15,000 check in Dominguez's name to the PDJF.

The National Hockey League, the leader in head injury protocol, decided not to let its players participate in the upcoming Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea because the Olympics will not pay for the insurance.

And stories keep popping up everywhere about moms who are worried about CTE and will not let their kids play high school football. That development may provide for a groundswell of bottom-up dilution in the pool but for now insurance companies have a top-down hold on the finances of all sports.

It’s incumbent upon the stewards of Thoroughbred racing to set up a fund to pay for the prohibitive cost of treating brain injuries caused by CTE.

The PDJF is a 501(c) (3) public charity and industry-based fund, independent of the Guild, that provides financial assistance to jockeys, both Guild and non-Guild members who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries. Charity is inadequate to foot this bill.

It was good to see Jockey Club Chairman Stuart Janney stand up at this year’s Round Table and say that racing has to own its drug problems exposed in last year’s trial of trainer Murray Rojas.

The next step is a nod that racing also must own CTE head injuries. Not only must racing own that but also take on the responsibility of caring for its own.

*correction made 111517 clarifying the source of funding