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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Vitek, 36-year-old jockey, dies of leukemia

Vitek grew up in the Houston area and began his riding career in 1993 at Sunland Park in New Mexico. After spending several years at Southwest tracks, he moved on to ride on several different circuits, including Southern California, Washington, Illinois, and for the last seven years of his career, in Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio.

While his leukemia was in remission, he rode four times at Turfway Park, including a touching comeback on Feb. 14, 2009, when he finished seventh on Model's Memo.

Vitek (pronounced VEE-tek) rode 763 winners from 8,209 mounts for earnings of more than $9.88 million. His biggest win came in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs in 2000 aboard Miss Pickums.

Vitek is survived by his daughter, Bree, 6, and by his mother, Kathy. Funeral arrangements were incomplete as of Thursday, although services will be held in Wallace, Texas, and a later memorial service will be held at Turfway Park.
Daily Racing Form
Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ramon Dominguez Jockey of the Week

Dominguez, 33, guided Winslow Homer to victory in the $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) on January 23 at Gulfstream Park for his first graded stakes win of 2010.

He leads all jockeys by North American wins and purse earnings for the year with 33 victories and $957,153 in earnings through January 26.

Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, Dominguez was a finalist for the 2009 Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey after posting 391 wins and $18,348,422 in purse earnings. More than 300 of those wins came on the New York circuit, where he became just the fifth jockey to reach 300 New York victories in a single season.

After winning four straight riding titles at Delaware Park from 2004 through ’07, Dominguez left Delaware for New York permanently in ’09 and won the spring/summer Belmont Park meeting and Saratoga Race Course meeting while sweeping the New York Racing Association meets.

Dominguez maintains a residence in Elkton, Maryland, close to both Delaware Park and Fair Hill Training Center.   Thoroughbred Times TODAY

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Davidson, jockey of Shuvee, dies at 69

Davidson won 3,035 races but was clouded by a conviction of fixing a race with three other jockeys at Bowie Race Course in 1975. He served a 4 ½-month prison sentence and was suspended by the Maryland Racing Commission for five years. A judge reinstated his jockey license in 1985.

Davidson maintained his innocence and declined to talk about the Bowie incident in a Baltimore Sun story in 2003.

“That’s a chapter of my life I’d rather just forget about,” he said. “It’s out of my mind. I don’t talk about it to anybody.”

In 1988, Davidson suffered a career-ending injury in a spill at Laurel Park, injuring his kidneys when he fell into a post supporting the inside rail. He underwent four years of dialysis and eventually received a kidney donated by his sister.

Davidson stayed away from the racetrack until his grandsons, Brandon and Grant Whitacre, began their jockey careers in Maryland. Davidson’s wife, Nancy, worked in admissions for the Maryland Jockey Club.

A native of Manchester, Kentucky, Davidson began riding in 1957 and was a perennial leader at Charles Town and Shenandoah Downs in the 1960s. He piloted 319 winners in 1965 to win the national title.

Davidson rode Shuvee for most of her two- and three-year-old seasons for trainer Willard Freeman and Virginia owners and breeders Whitney and Anne Stone. He was aboard for her first stakes win in the 1968 Frizette Stakes and for the Filly Triple Crown wins in the 1969 Acorn Stakes, Mother Goose Stakes, and Coaching Club American Oaks as well as victories in the Alabama Stakes and Ladies Handicap.

 “His numbers were always good at Charles Town, Shenandoah Downs and the half-mile tracks in Maryland,” said Phil Grove, a steward for the Maryland Jockey Club who rode alongside Davidson. “He was very popular with the trainers and knew how to win at those tracks. Jesse was prone to accidents and got hurt many times during his career. He was a good race rider and he passed those skills along to Grant, a good heady rider who is really developing.”

Visiting hours are Monday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST at Slack Funeral Home in Ellicott City, Maryland, and the funeral will be there on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Jeff Lowe is a Thoroughbred Times writer

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Leparoux Wins Eclipse Award

Hailing from Senlis, France, Leparoux swept the first two $1-million races of 2009, taking the Jan. 24 OBS Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park with It's a Bird

(Birdonthewire) and the Mar. 7 GI Santa Anita H. aboard Einstein (Brz) (Spend a

Buck). While Leparoux's GI Kentucky Derby mount General Quarters (Sky Mesa) could do no better than 10th in the Run for the Roses, the first Saturday in May was memorable for Leparoux, as he captured the GI Humana Distaff S. with Informed Decision (Monarchos), the GI Woodford Reserve Turf Classic aboard Einstein and the GII Churchill Downs S. with Accredit (E Dubai). He and Forever Together (Belong to Me) repeated in the GI Diana S. at Saratoga Aug. 1 before the Frenchman

found additional Grade I success at the Spa when he guided Icon Project (Empire Maker) to an easy triumph in the Aug. 30 GI Personal Ensign S. Promoted to

first via disqualification in the GI Northern Dancer Turf S. with Just as Well (A.P. Indy) at Woodbine Sept. 20, Leparoux returned to the United States to pilot Pure Clan (Pure Prize) to victory in Belmont's GI Flower Bowl Invitational S. Oct. 3.
 
Leparoux posted a trio of victories in the Breeders' Cup, taking the GI Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies with eventual two-year-old champion She Be Wild (Offlee Wild), the GI Sentient Jet Filly and Mare Sprint with champion female sprinter Informed Decision and the GI Dirt Mile with upsetter Furthest Land (Smart Strike).
 

He won riding titles during the Churchill Downs and Keeneland spring meets, and shared top honors with Calvin Borel at Churchill in the fall. Leparoux, who took time off to spend Christmas with his family, led the earnings standings going into the final day of the year, but lost that title when last year's Eclipse champion Garrett Gomez gained a pick-up mount in the night cap at Santa Anita.  Thoroughbred Times TODAY

 

2009 Stats: 1,284-247-206-156, $18,560,565

Top Horses: It's a Bird, Einstein (Brz),

Justwhistledixie, Informed Decision, Forever

Together, Icon Project, Just as Well, Pure

Clan, She Be Wild, Furthest Land

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

AQUEDUCT JOCKEYS JOIN HAITIAN RELIEF EFFORT

“We were all overwhelmed by the enormity of this terrible event,” said Ramon Dominguez, New York’s leading jockey. “We wanted to act and contribute to the recovery effort for those affected by this tragedy.”

 Riders at Aqueduct will have the option to donate losing mount fees and/or a percentage of their earnings from races during the week span of Saturday, January 15 – Friday, January 22 to the American Red Cross toward the Haitian Relief effort.

 “It’s important that we band together to help people in such desperate need,” said Maylan Studart, a 20-year-old jockey. “It’s often in the times of greatest need that some of the best aspects of humanity emerge, and hopefully our donations, and the ones all across the world, are a reflection of that.”

 Yesterday, The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) announced that it will contribute $5,000 to the American Red Cross toward the Haitian Relief effort.

 “NYRA is proud to support the Haitian Relief effort and offer its assistance during this time of crisis,” NYRA President and CEO Charles Hayward said. “We encourage people to join us in sending donations to help those affected by this catastrophe.”

 NYRA has set up a direct link to the American Red Cross on the main page of NYRA.com for donations. In addition, individuals can make donations directly at the American Red Cross websiteNYRA Communications Department

 

Friday, January 15, 2010

A racing industry success story

From 2001 to 2007, it seemed the organization, which had been tainted by the

poor leadership and spending habits of then-manager Dr. Wayne Gertmenian, was in constant dispute with many other industry groups. But just when members must have felt

they would never see light at the end of the tunnel, along came Terry Meyocks, who

assumed the management position after Gertmenian left in 2007.
 
Having declared bankruptcy, the organization began to reconstruct itself, piece by piece, and slowly regained credibility and trust from owners, trainers, and tracks. Retired jockey Jerry Bailey, along with several other members that had resigned, rejoined the organization in 2008.
 

For years the New York Racing Association, along with some other racetracks, had discontinued its support of the Guild due to conflict within the organization,

but in 2008 the New York franchise was back on board. NYRA contributed more

than $200,000 to the Guild in 2009 and was joined by others such as Churchill

Downs and Magna Entertainment, which also donated significant funds.
 

Slowly but surely climbing out of debt, the Guild is also coming through on its

promises to help members with temporary disabilities and life insurance. With continued increased financial stability, the organization plans to eventually offer health

insurance to its members again. The Guild terminated its insurance program in 2007.
 

Working with local horsemen’s organizations, the Guild realized a milestone in

2009 when it was successful in raising losing mount fees in about 20 jurisdictions.
 

Another positive steppingstone was implementing new safety initiatives through the

2008 launch of the Internet-based InCompass medical records program.
 

With an eye toward the future, the Guild is also making steady progress in cooperation

with the Association of Racing Commissioners International to develop and

improve model rules for racetracks in the areas of jockey health and safety.

Still another positive program the Guild is involved with is the Permanently Disabled

Jockeys’ Fund. While the PDJF was formed outside of the Guild, the two organizations closely support one another. While working with the PDJF last year, Guild members arranged a sponsorship deal with NetJets for the three Triple Crown races, which benefited the PDJF, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, The Jockey Club Foundation, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and the Backstretch Employee Service Team. In addition, the William Stamps Farish Fund donated $1 million to the PDJF, and Farish is helping to raise $10-$12 million to endow a fund that will provide continuous support for disabled riders. Since 2008, Guild-arranged sponsorships have realized more than $1 million for charities. By Esther Marr/The Blood-Horse

Friday, January 15, 2010

Eclipse Frenzy

When you're a finalist for an Eclipse Award, it's something you'd love to win and of course that's the goal, but at this point there's nothing more you can do about it, so you try to keep it more in the back of your head.

January 14, 2010, 3:07 PM

By: Garrett Gomez

It's hard to believe it's been almost two months since my last blog entry! I went to Japan for their jockey challenge at the beginning of December and that was a lot of fun even though I didn't win. I love the way they're so happy to have you there and it's an honor to be invited to participate. After that I just kind of laid low toward the end of the Hollywood meet, until I rode in the CashCall Futurity, which I was fortunate enough to win with Lookin at Lucky. We had a little bit of a Christmas break before Santa Anita started, and that was pretty much the end of the season.

Now here we are, just a few days before the Eclipse Awards. It's one of those years where anything could happen -- both with Horse of the Year, which I'll talk about a little later, and also with my category. For Outstanding Jockey this year you have me, Julien Leparoux, and Ramon Dominguez, and I respect my competition a lot.

Going into the end of the year, I really wanted the money title because I felt like if I had that, it would put me in a competitive position for the Eclipse. Julien had a good Breeders' Cup and a solid year, but I felt like if I captured the money title, when they hung up the numbers it would give me a chance. It came down to the wire, but we got it done and so my name is at the top of the list for Grade I races and Grade II races and we're tied with overall total of stakes victories. Winning the money title is a goal that we set up, something we wanted to do, but of course that's not the main goal. The main goal is to try to find the right horses and to win races day in and day out and then as the year progresses if you're lucky you start finding yourself in positions to do that and as time goes on that pushes you toward the top.

When you're a finalist for an Eclipse Award, it's something you'd love to win and of course that's the goal, but at this point there's nothing more you can do about it, so you try to keep it more in the back of your head. When you get to the dinner that changes, because you're in the moment and the nerves are building up. You get that queasy feeling like, oh, come on, please, please, please, please, please. That adrenaline goes to work. So on Monday I'll be sitting down with those butterflies in my stomach, and hopefully we walk out with some hardware.

Of course people aren't going to be fixated on the jockey category; everyone will be waiting to find out who is Horse of the Year. I actually threw my two cents into the ring in my November 9 entry after the Breeders' Cup, but I'll give you an updated version here. The Breeders' Cup races were drawn up by the Thoroughbred industry to have a championship moment for all these good horses to revolve around. Basically it was like, "You did that this year, and I did that this year, and let's see who's best." Those races are meant to bring all those good horses together, and this year one showed up and the other one didn't.

Now if Zenyatta hadn't shown up on Breeders' Cup day, there's no doubt she would have lost Horse of the Year. But on the biggest day at the biggest show of the year, she did exactly what she had to do to beat the other filly out of the Eclipse Award. It was one of those things where the odds were unbelievable -- she had to run against the boys, and at a mile and a quarter, and if she runs second it doesn't do her any good -- but the only thing that could have gotten the Eclipse Award taken away from the other filly was exactly what happened.

That's not to knock the other filly. Jess Jackson ran a gutsy campaign with her that not a lot of owners would have tried. It's a difficult decision and part of the excitement is not knowing what will happen. It should be interesting!

The next few months will be typical for the early 3-year-old season, waiting to see which horses pan out and how our prospects are shaping up for the Kentucky Derby. We have Lookin at Lucky, and then we have another nice horse of Baffert's named Conveyance, he's an Indian Charlie, two for two, and won a nice little allowance at Hollywood for me by seven lengths last time out. We have another horse with Baffert named Tiz Chrome, obviously by Tiznow, who is also two for two, and he just won the Stuka Stakes for me at Hollywood.

Of course it's still early and we're still searching because you know how difficult this road to the Derby is. A lot of these horses have a tough two-year-old campaign and have to be something special to make it through a tough three-year-old campaign as well, so you're always looking for that one.

I'll check in with you guys in about a month or so, once things start to pan out on the Derby trail and then we'll pick up the pace coming down to the wire. Until then, tune in Monday to catch the Eclipse Awards on TVG -- you might even catch a glimpse of me!

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According to Mike Smith

Zenyatta should be going for two-time Horse of the Year.

January 14, 2010, 3:16 PM

By: According to Mike Smith

The tension is mounting this week in California, where Monday's Eclipse Award ceremony will reveal one Horse of the Year -- Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta. Today I checked in with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith to get his thoughts on the nerve-wracking battle. Because of his position as the regular rider for Zenyatta, Mike has been interviewed quite a bit by the racing media -- so I asked him to relive some old memories of his first days aboard the big mare before building his case for Zenyatta as Horse of the Year. Here's what he had to say:

Well, she was mine to start with. I'd worked her in the mornings and everyone knew she was going to be something special, and of course I was looking forward to being a part of that. Around that time I was riding a horse named Tessa Blue for Frankie Brothers; I won the Indiana Oaks on her and came back and won a race on Breeders' Cup Friday in the slop at Monmouth by 12 lengths. Anyhow, we were back in California and John decided to run Zenyatta in this maiden race and we didn't think she was going to run short the first time out because she's such a big giant mare. Well, I was supposed to ride Tessa Blue at Churchill in the Fall City Handicap there, she was one of the favorites, and John Shirreffs said "No big deal, she's gonna need a race anyways, if she gets beat you'll get her back."

She didn't get beat, but Tessa Blue did. She stumbled leaving the gate and didn't get an easy lead and later I was sitting in my hotel, the Executive West in Louisville, watching TVG, thinking to myself, Ah, I'm gonna watch Zenyatta run, I think she'll put on a good show, I hope she comes running. Of course she did and I was like, aw, heck, no, holy cow, man! I can't believe I missed that!

I landed late that night in California and got up early the next morning and went straight to the barn.

Well, John said, "David did a good job with her. I said you'd get her back if she lost." Of course I wasn't happy about that, and then she ran again and won again and then I was really upset.

It all worked out when they were going to send Tiago down to run in the Oaklawn Handicap and John said, "I'm thinking of sending Zenyatta there for the Apple Blossom,' but David had to stay in California to ride Gato Malo." John said "It's the same situation, you stay on her if you don't get beat."

So the Apple Blossom was my first time riding her and she just annihilated them that day, and she's never been beat and so I've stayed on her.

Now I'll tell you what makes this year's Eclipse Awards ceremony even more nail-biting than it already is -- as far as I'm concerned, she should be going for two-time Horse of the Year. I thought she was denied last year, when they gave it to Curlin after he didn't win the Breeders' Cup Classic and the excuse then was that they were judging the body of his work. In that case, let's look at a mare who is undefeated. Not to take anything away from Rachel Alexandra, I think she's amazing, but we beat the best of the best and they made the Breeders' Cup to determine champions. And that's not all. We knocked them out all year; she's never let anyone down. I could talk 'till I'm blue in the face but in my opinion she's horse of the decade, two-time horse of the year, and I love her to death. She's an experience; the show is on from the time she walks into the paddock until the time she gets into the gate and then winning every time after she always spots the field one or two lengths.

As far as if she'll win, it's tough to say. You hear all this back and forth talk rolling one way and the other way but I'm just going to sit there and enjoy the night. If we're blessed enough to win I'll be so excited, but in my heart I know what she's done for racing and any of the people who really watched her campaign this year know it too.

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Eclipse Ballot

Zenyatta, in my book, is the champion based on the company she put away -- not only in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but in previous races this season.

January 7, 2010, 4:02 PM

By: Claire Novak

I've been eligible to participate as an Eclipse Award voter for several years, but I've never thrown in my two cents. The reason is simple: I disagree with the fact that one voting block (the National Turf Writers' Association) maintains a public ballot policy while the other two (racing secretaries and the Daily Racing Form) cast their vote in secret. In my opinion, all ballots from all parties should be exposed.

This year, however, I decided to put my reservations aside for two reasons. First, the honor of receiving a ballot, secret or not, is not to be taken lightly. Second, after following and promoting and criticizing and praising these horses and connections over the entire year, the least a turf writer owes them is a nod of respect for a job well done. The system may not be perfect, but neither is the industry and neither are we.

Any smart young reporter will look to those with more experience in any situation -- post race interviews, conversations with trainers after morning works, the handling of sensitive issues -- and preparation for Eclipse Award voting should offer no exception. As I was preparing my ballot and reviewing past performances, Jay Hovdey's exceptional column on the topic caught my eye. I have chosen to follow his lead in two of my human selections.

The categories of apprentice jockey and trainer both posed problems this year; it has been a weak season for bug boys and the trainer division comes down to whether the award should be based purely on high statistical achievements (i.e. Steve Asmussen) or popularity among the fans (i.e. John Shirreffs). Hovdey went maverick on both choices, selecting the severely injured Michael Straight as leading apprentice and voting for the late Bobby Frankel as outstanding trainer.

Neither of those two made the finals, which were announced on Wednesday, but while they won't be named champion in their respective categories, both already exist as such in our hearts -- Straight for giving far more to the industry than a 24-year-old apprentice should have had to give, and Frankel for maintaining a strong presence in 2009 in spite of his terminal illness. Hovdey was spot-on in his choices here and, as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

A quick run-though of my selections in the other categories: Steeplechase (Mixed Up), 2-year-old colt or gelding (Lookin At Lucky), 2-year-old filly (She Be Wild), 3-year-old colt or gelding (Summer Bird), 3-year-old filly (Rachel Alexandra), older male (Gio Ponti), older filly or mare (Zenyatta), sprinter (Zensational), female sprinter (Informed Decision), male turf horse (Gio Ponti), female turf horse (Goldikova), breeder (Juddmonte), owner (Jerry and Ann Moss), trainer (Bobby Frankel), jockey (Ramon Dominguez), apprentice jockey (Michael Straight).

Now for Horse of the Year, I chose Zenyatta. There's nothing to be said that hasn't already been said on that subject, but here's the bottom line -- like many of my fellow Turf writers, I would have approved a chance to offer an unprecedented Horse of the Year title to both. Since that is not an option, I chose the horse I believed to be the best. This is in no way knocking Rachel Alexandra, who moved me to tears with her Kentucky Oaks score and continued to impress throughout the season. But Zenyatta, in my book, is the champion based on the company she put away -- not only in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but in previous races this season -- and based upon the way she did it, and upon the distinct weight advantage she handed to her competitors on more than one occasion, and finally upon the fact that she handled the Classic distance in remarkable style.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ramon Dominguez Jockey of the Week

The Caracas, Venezuela, native posted 13 victories and banked $297,551 in earnings during the period. His highest earner was Fuzzy Britches, who finished second in the Busanda Stakes on January 9 at Aqueduct. Dominguez, 33, is a finalist for his first

Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey after a terrific 2009 campaign. He ended the year with the second-most North American wins by a jockey with 391 and the third-most purse earnings with $18,348,422.
 

He won five Grade 1 races last year, three of them coming aboard Gio Ponti, an Eclipse Award finalist for champion older male and turf male. He also won the Prioress Stakes (G1) aboard Cat Moves and piloted Seattle Smooth to victory in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (G1). Dominguez also won the riding titles at the spring-summer meet

at Belmont Park and at Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct last year.
Thoroughbred Times TODAY
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Victories are spread out among deep group of Fair Grounds jockeys

Jockeys’ victories this season appear more widely distributed than in previous seasons.

“That’s good racing,’’ said Graham, who was leading the pack with 32 winners, two in front of Lanerie.

Said Jacinto: “This year it’s tougher. There are more jockeys and real good jockeys, more competitive. It’s pretty much spread out. Everybody’s right there close.’’

Robby Albarado, who last season set a record by winning his seventh Fair Grounds riding title, sees a typical Fair Grounds group of jockeys.

“Good jocks’ room, as always,’’ Albarado said. “It is a deep colony, always has been. No one this year is real dominant. I don’t think the leading rider will have a whole lot of wins.’’

Said Theriot, who led the Fair Grounds standings two seasons ago: “You have the same group that’s been here six, seven eight years, like Robby said. Business is more spread out that it was in the past.’’

Newcomers are adding depth to the ranks. Richard Eramia, Victor Lebron and Trey Agilar are fitting in nicely. Sellers technically isn’t a newcomer, but he’s back from a hiatus of more than 4 ½ years. He’s riding as well as ever and clearly is the strongest addition to the jockey colony.

For all jockeys, the key is winding up on the right horses. In any race, handicapping the horses is much more important than handicapping the jockeys. The horses are the ones running.

Also, trying to read the minds of the jockeys and agents isn’t a good idea. Some bettors assume that if a jockey rode Horse A last time but is on Horse B this time, the rider prefers the latter horse.
 
But that might not be the case, said Britt McGehee, Graham’s agent.

For example, McGehee said, he might commit Graham to a mount with little chance to win in order to ensure that the jockey won’t lose attractive future mounts from the trainer’s barn. Timing might come into play, McGehee said. He might have committed the jockey to Horse B before Horse A’s trainer decided that Horse A would be in the race. Or, personal relationships might be behind a decision to take a mount on one horse instead of another.

At the Fair Grounds, McGehee said, the rider shouldn’t be a concern for someone betting on a legitimate contender. “It’s just a good, solid, deep jock colony; it really is,’’ McGehee said. “If you have a good horse, any of 10, 11 jockeys can bring him home. They ride tight here, too.’’

Said Graham: “They don’t give you any room if you make a mistake. They won’t help you out.’’

“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,’’ McGehee said.

Unforseen circumstances, such as suspensions and injuries, can play a role in the outcome of the jockeys’ race. For instance, Graham’s position might change soon, because on Saturday, he’ll begin a seven-day suspension for careless riding in the Furl Sail Handicap. “You just roll with the punches,’’ Graham said.

Albarado, Francisco Torres, Shaun Bridgmohan and Miguel Mena are talented riders who are playing catch-up in the standings because they rode to the end of the Churchill Downs fall meet. Albarado also missed four racing days after injuring his back in a spill on Champions Day, and he likely will lose opportunities for wins at the Fair Grounds because he’ll be riding on occasion in out-of-town stakes races.

Still, Albarado, who through Monday stood 12th in the standings with 11 victories from only 49 mounts, remains this handicapper’s pick in this competitive jockeys’ race. He combines talent, knowledge of the track, and strong connections with Kentucky and Louisiana stables. He’s capable of making up ground in a hurry, like he did on the way to winning the title last season.

Albarado said it’s way too early to talk about who might win the jockeys’ race.
“Come see me in March,’’ he said.  Bob Fortus/New Orleans Times-Picayune
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Long Road to Recovery

“She had just worked our horses that morning at Churchill Downs,” said Werner, who works side by side with her husband, trainer Ronny Werner. Brimo had also ridden for Werner in the afternoons; her first winner since coming to this country from Canada was a Werner-trained horse, Water the Infield, at Turfway Park Oct. 4.

So when Cindy Werner heard about the spill, she and her family dropped everything and rushed from their home in Louisville, Ky., to the University of Kentucky hospital in Lexington where they stayed until Brimo had stabilized and the extent of her injuries was known.

The news wasn’t good: Brimo’s extensive injuries included cracked vertebrae in her lower back. Four days after the spill she had a plate and screws inserted to fuse her vertebrae. Her journey back to the saddle was going to be a long one.

Cindy Werner worked tirelessly raising funds to cover Brimo’s expenses until she can start drawing a paycheck again. As a Canadian citizen, Brimo, the 2003 Sovereign Award recipient as her home country’s outstanding apprentice jockey, is entitled to virtually free health care, but she has a mortgage and car payments as well as plenty of other regular bills.

“We called every owner that we’ve ever trained for,” Werner said, as well as tapping dozens of resources in and out of the industry for contributions. She opened a bank account at the Fifth Third Bank in Louisville for donations. The hard work has paid off, according to Werner, with contributions pouring in, and not just from those connected to the industry.

“I open letters every day,” Werner said. “Some people send $500 some $5—some just write notes. It’s amazing … I keep depositing the checks, and then I mail the money to her and her family for daily needs.”
Some of the most important people in her corner are her fellow jockeys from tracks large and small. On Nov. 28 many North American jockeys contributed at least $50 in mount fees to her rehabilitation fund; Canadian jockeys have done this more than once. On Nov. 27 they wore two patches on their boots: one with her name on it, the other promoting the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. A poster signed by all of the Woodbine jockeys hangs in her room at the Lyndhurst Center in Toronto, a leading spinal cord rehabilitation facility.

Brimo is in good spirits. Her two sisters, who live near the facility, are there with her 24/7, keeping her company, stretching her limbs, answering her phone, and generally helping all around.

Physicians have told her that she has come a long way in a short period of time. First she recovered feeling in her legs, then in her lower body. Arms and hands are the last to recover, but just recently she could bend the fingers on her right hand, a huge achievement for someone anxious to scratch her nose. The left side has been slower to come around, but the other night she said she woke up and could move her left arm. 

Brimo has little memory of the accident, which came in the first race of the day. Her last recollection is of returning to her car to retrieve her stick after she had driven from Churchill Downs to Keeneland for that day’s card. She has slowly regained her memory—another milestone passed. “That took a little time,” she said.

In addition to her riding, Brimo, 33, is an accomplished runner. Recently feeling optimistic and cheerful, she texted the Werners’ son, Will, a very close friend, at Murray State University in Murray, Ky. Her “very early in the morning message” to Will, a four-year starter at safety on the football team who is now preparing to apply to veterinary school, was that she had already run two laps. Though she was teasing her friend, she has started a regular routine of walking completely around the circle that houses her unit. She figured out that 16 laps constituted a mile and that became a daily goal. She also encouraged others whose rooms are off the circle to join her and has had success convincing some patients to leave their rooms.

When you ask Julia Brimo whom she wants to thank, the list is endless. But if she has her way, she’ll be able to thank them all in person. Her prognosis is for a full recovery, although that may take some time. And after that?

“I just want to get well and get back to riding,” Brimo said. 

By Terese Karmel/The Blood-Horse
Thursday, January 07, 2010

Tiny movement a huge achievement

And then he moved his toes.

"As soon as it happened," said Michael, "I called my parents into my room and said, 'You guys aren't gonna believe this. Watch my toes!' "

It was barely an hour later that this reporter called, from out of the blue, to check on Straight's progress in dealing with his new life as a wheelchair-dependent paraplegic. Straight was still buzzing from the small, though possibly significant movement in the toes of his left foot, which were finally, maybe, answering the signals being sent from his brain over the past four months.

"I was telling my brother that one day I was going to just throw down my feet and walk," Straight said. "He said, 'All right. I'd like to see that happen.' Then all of a sudden my toes started moving. It was very weird how that happened. For the first 10 minutes they were probably moving every five to 10 seconds. There were no spasms, like I can get. I know the difference. I don't have that much feeling in my toes, but now that I see them move, I can't even tell you how excited I am."

Straight was 23 when the accident occurred - the brothers turned 24 last November - and to that point Michael's toughest challenge had been keeping to the weight he needed to take full advantage of his apprentice allowances.

He was getting it done, though, and when he went down, in the eighth race on Aug. 26, he had won 39 races since his debut in January 2009, with 23 of them at Arlington, where he was beginning to win friends and fans. As a graduate of the high-profile North American Racing Academy run by Hall of Famer Chris McCarron, Straight came equipped with a higher level of expectations than the traditional apprentice, off the farm or off the street. By all accounts, Mike Straight was meeting them.

His final mount, I'm No Gentleman, was favored in that race for $10,000 claimers. The horse collapsed at the back of the pack and was dead when he, and Straight, hit the ground. In addition to his fractured vertebrae, Straight suffered a cerebral hematoma that abated before any brain damage was sustained. He also developed a potentially dangerous pressure sore during his recovery in a Chicago hospital and underwent further surgery.

By now, he has pretty much gone through the million-dollar medical insurance policy provided by the racetrack, as well as a much smaller amount for rehabilitation. As a stabilized outpatient, Straight is not running up bills at the same rate.

"I like it better this way," said Straight, who was raised in upstate New York. "I'm so lucky I've got my parents here to take care of me. I can get a little of this warm Florida sunshine going. The only thing I haven't been able to do is walk."

Straight, though, is not about to roll over.

"I've been doing a lot of research," Straight said. "I was very impressed with the stem cell research opportunities now in the United States. The University of California at Irvine has a huge program. They told me by the third quarter of this year they'd be up and running. So even if it doesn't work out and I can't walk before then, there's always that kind of opportunity."

Straight has had to deal with the obvious anxieties of going from a full speed career to a hard stop.

"Probably the hardest thing I have to do is be patient," he said. "I have to take my time with everything, do things in slow motion.

"You lose your legs and you need a lot of upper body strength," Straight went on. "The first couple days I was using a wheelchair my arms were so sore. But even with the spinal injury the top of my back is fine and my chest is fine. I can get in my parents' SUV with someone picking me up from the back, then I use one of the handles on the roof to pull myself into the seat. They stow my chair in the back, then put it together and I can hop right out of the car and into the seat."

At this point, Straight had passed his audition. The part was his . . . the resilience of youth.

"Riding horses is dangerous," Straight said. "And I know falling wasn't the best thing for me. I just can't help feeling, though, that it's all working out now.

"Anyway, racing was my life before and that won't change," he added. "Now that I'm down here, I hope to get over to Tampa to watch my brother ride, and down to Gulfstream Park."

In fact, if all goes well, Michael Straight could be returning to a racetrack for the first time since his injury on the afternoon of Jan. 17 to watch Sweet Lemon Chello run in the $100,000 Sweetest Chant Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Sweet Lemon Chello, owned by Slapshot Stables, separated herself cleanly from fellow Illinois-breds on Dec. 5 when she won the Pat Whitworth Stakes at Hawthorne by 8 1/2 lengths.

"I broke her maiden last summer," Straight said. "And her owners have become real good friends. They were looking for a race, and I found this one at Gulfstream, long on the grass, which she should like since she's by Lemon Drop Kid. I asked them if my brother could ride her. They said yes."

Clearly, Straight is already in rehearsal for his next career.

"As soon as I get back, the plan is to take my brother's book," Straight said. "Even if I'm in a wheelchair and I can still get around, that would be a great job for me. It would be an honor to be his agent, and back in the game again."

Then, just to make sure, he moved his toes.

Jay Hovdey/Daily Racing Form

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Garrett Gomez Jockey of the Week

Gomez led all riders by North American earnings for the week ended January 6 with

$229,016. His most lucrative win of the week came aboard Compari in the Sensational Star Handicap on New Year’s Day at Santa Anita Park.
 

On December 31, Gomez sealed the earnings title on his final mount, guiding Cenizo

to victory in the eighth race at Santa Anita to push his total to $18,571,171. Gomez got the mount only when jockey Martin Pedroza took off the mount. “I thought I was cooked,” Gomez told the Daily Racing Form. “I didn’t think I had any chance. I was hanging around and hoped somebody would take off. You never know what could happen.”
 

Gomez is a leading contender for a third straight Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey. Should he win, Gomez would join Racing Hall of Fame rider Jerry Bailey as the only jockeys to win three consecutive awards. Bailey won in 1995, ’96, ’97, 2000, ’01, ’02, and ’03. Thoroughbred Times TODAY

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Injured Straight Has Movement in His Toes

 “Just seeing those toes move was unbelievable,” Straight said. “I had to do a double take.”

Straight moved to Jacksonville, Fla., with his parents on Dec. 17. He had been recovering from the accident and subsequent surgery (during which doctors inserted a flexible rod into his spine) at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, but decided to pursue outpatient therapy at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital in Florida, near the home of his aunt. The outpatient therapy will begin on Jan. 8.
His brother, Matthew Straight, is currently riding at Tampa Bay Downs – where Michael rode his first winner on March 6, 2009.
The 24-year-old posted news of the movement on his Facebook profile on Jan. 5:
“So...I'm laying in bed and guess who told their brother ‘One of these days I'm just going to put my feet on the ground and walk!!!’” he wrote. “Then hung up with him about a minute later and about 10 seconds after that I looked down and JUST MY TOES WERE MOVING and nothing else!”
Straight said the response to his post was overwhelming.
“I had so many messages this morning it was incredible,” he said. “So many people responded and have supported me from the start. I can’t thank them enough for taking the time to wish me well and let me know they’re thinking of me and praying for me. I look at the Michael Straight get well card and for someone to create that for me, in my mind, is just out of this world. To know that so many people are behind me is an amazing feeling.”
Straight, a graduate of Chris McCarron’s North American Racing Academy, had been based Arlington Park in the summer of 2009 and was aboard Im No Genetleman in a maiden race when his mount clipped heels with another horse in the vicinity of the quarter pole and tossed the rider to the track. Through Aug. 26, his career record sat at 39-32-40 from 372 starts. Claire Novak/The Blood-Horse
 
 
Tuesday, January 05, 2010

British Officials Try to Widen Horse Racing's Appeal

Ten trial initiatives are to be introduced by Racing for Change, a project tasked with modernising horse racing.

Racing for Change chairman Chris McFadden said there was a "current reluctance by some of racing's stars" to work more closely with the media which was having a detrimental effect on positive publicity for the sport.

Jockeys and trainers, McFadden said, would be offered appearance fees for interviews with non-racing media.

"British horse racing is the envy of the racing world with our abundance of outstanding horses, trainers and jockeys as well as a host of first class racetracks," McFadden said in a statement.

"Yet, despite the likes of Sea The Stars and Kauto Star, the sport needs to work harder to connect, as it did in the past, with the wider public. This is, no doubt, a result of a significantly more competitive betting and leisure environment -- so we have to raise our game."

Other proposals include a free membership club for "younger adults" that will offer discounted admission to many racecourses and shares in several racehorses and a central PR campaign to promote racing more effectively to a wider audience.

"What has encouraged us during the research and consultation stages of the project is that, fundamentally, there is little wrong with the racing as an entertainment, leisure and betting medium," added McFadden.

"What it requires is a clearer structure and better presentation of its strengths - it's drama, spectacle and heritage as well as its equine and human stars."

The proposals will be implemented by the end of June 2010.

(Writing by Justin Palmer; Editing by Ed Osmond) New York Times

Monday, January 04, 2010

GOMEZ GAINS FOURTH STRAIGHT EARNINGS TITLE BY $10,606

            Cenizo, the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the eighth race whom Gomez had acquired when Martin Pedroza “took off” three races earlier, was victorious as the heavily bet 4-5 choice in the $18,000 maiden claimer. He earned $10,800.  

            The result allowed Gomez, on the eve of his 38th birthday, to overtake Julien Leparoux by $10,606 in the money race with mount earnings of $18,571,171 for 2009. Leparoux had earned $18,560,565 before returning to his native France to be with his family for the Christmas holidays.

            But when Gomez did little more than replace Pedroza while $194 shy of Leparoux’s lead, the title became all but a fait accompli. Cenizo would have earned a performance fee of $400 for merely coming out of the starting gate.

            At day’s end, Gomez had joined Laffit Pincay Jr. (1971 through 1974) and Braulio Baeza (1965 through 1968) as riders to have won the money championship four consecutive years. Bill Shoemaker holds the record of seven successive years, 1958 through 1964.

            “To have to go down to actually my last mount of the year is unreal,” Gomez said following his 1 ¼-length win aboard Cenizo for trainer Julio Canani. “I was lucky enough to pick up the winner. I was hanging around the (jockeys’) room, hoping to pick up something, and Martin (Pedroza) didn’t feel well.”       

            Earlier, it seemed Gomez had been rebuffed in his title bid when his mount in the second race, Red Arrow, finished last among six entrants in the featured $54,354 optional claiming event at 5 ½ furlongs to earn no more than the $400 performance fee.

            Gomez’s only other scheduled mount was in the fourth race. And even though 6-5 choice Fund Raiser was a handy winner of the maiden special weight competition, the first prize of $26,400 wasn’t quite enough to overcome the outcome of the second. He had fallen $194 short. Or so it seemed, at the time.

            In reflecting on his best moment of 2009, Gomez said, “It was probably the Woodbine Mile with Ventura. Her race at Woodbine was just phenomenal and at the time, Bobby Frankel (Ventura’s trainer, who died on Nov. 16) was very sick. Ron (agent Ron Anderson) called him, and said Bobby was very happy and that meant a lot to us. Earlier in the week, I had won on Champs Elysees for Bobby. It’s been a great year.”

            Gomez expressed optimism for 2010. “I feel we can win the title again,” he said. “We’re on top of our game and we’ve got a lot of really good people supporting us. Some of our big horses have gone by the wayside, so Ron and I are looking to replace some of those horses. It’s a great position to be in.”

            For a while, his position looked anything but “great” on New Year’s Eve.

            Red Arrow and Machismo, trained by John Sadler for Gary and Cecil Barber, were sent off as the second betting choice at odds of 5-2 in Thursday’s second race.  Delta Storm, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on Nov. 7, was heavily favored at 9-10.

            Red Arrow raced in fourth position early and moved into third nearing the far turn, but the 6-year-old Australian-bred failed to respond to Gomez’s strong urging. He gradually began to drop back on the turn while failing to beat a horse.

            His entrymate, meanwhile, gained the lead from early leader Tribesman in midstretch and crossed the wire a nose in front of fast-closing longshot Paul’s Hope. Sangaree finished three-quarters of a length back in third while Tribesman checked in fourth. Delta Storm, who wound up fifth, was never a factor.

            Machismo paid $7.80, $3.80 and $2.80. Paul’s Hope, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, returned $6.20 and $4.40. The show mutuel on Sangaree, with Martin Garcia in the saddle, was $5.20.

            “He ran great,” Smith said of the winner. “The key today was getting away from the gate in good order, and he did that. He’s so quick away from there that sometimes he stumbles, and it’s hurt his chances.  Santa Anita Communications Department

 

PDJF

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