Valets at Churchill Downs protest over better wages as Derby week nears

Valets work 70 days out of the year and are responsible for keeping things flowing behind the scenes on race day.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Derby week quickly approaches in Louisville and some of horse racing’s most essential workers feel their pay and expired contracts do very little.

Valets work 70 days out of the year and are responsible for keeping things flowing behind the scenes on race day. They take care of saddling horses and making sure the jockeys have what they need before and after the race.

Many gathered outside of Churchill Downs Saturday to protest for better wages.

Ronnie Shelton has been a valet at the Downs for 35 years, following in his father’s footsteps. He is currently paid an hourly wage of $16 but he along with others are asking for $20 an hour and contributions to their retirement accounts.

Shelton said after years of working at the track and them refusing to have a conversation, he’s frustrated.

“I don’t know I don’t understand their feelings on it this is the last thing in the world we would want at this point in time. It’s a cloud and its over Churchill and its over us. We are getting ready to run the greatest race in the country. And it’s going to have a little smear on it if this proceed,” he said.

The day also marked Opening Night at Churchill Downs where many valets couldn’t attend the protest.

Shelton said they were rotating turns, coming out to protest so the jockeys and horses would be ready for the night.

Elle Smith will have more on what the valets are asking for and why Churchill isn’t budging tonight on the NightTeam.

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