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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Louisville Courier-Journal Editorial

Just how dangerous the sport is for jockeys was driven home Sunday in a package of stories by Courier-Journal racing writer Jennie Rees. Since 1940, 128 riders have died as a result of racetrack injuries suffered in the United States, including an average of at least one a year since 1991. Crippling injuries are even more common, and about 60 former riders with brain or spinal damage receive aid from the racing industry's Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

Indeed, danger and injuries are so common that ironically they can invite complacency. As with coal mining, it can be tempting to conclude that risk can't be eliminated and accept death and serious injury as inevitable.

It is imperative, however, that racing officials, jockeys and fans reject such a mindset and focus relentlessly on safety. The death, paralysis or traumatic brain injury of a jockey has the same consequence as any other kind of catastrophic workplace injury. It ends a life or inflicts devastating limitations, changes families forever and shocks the public.

The hopeful news is that many constructive steps have been taken in the last generation, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Jockeys' Guild — as well as some tracks, including Churchill Downs and Keeneland — have provided important leadership in rider safety.

Some of these measures — such as safety vests and better headgear— have become widespread. Others, including padded starting gates and safety rails, are found at some tracks, but not others. A handful of tracks, led by Keeneland, have replaced dirt surfaces with synthetic materials, which some studies have found to be safer for riders and horses.

But not all changes involve equipment. More rigorous training of inexperienced jockeys,
tougher punishments for jockeys who ride recklessly and advances in health screening and
injury treatment all can provide important benefits. Improved accident insurance coverage
purchased by tracks for riders is a necessary step in anticipation of the needs of jockeys who are severely hurt.

And finally, the issues of rider safety and equine welfare are closely related. Many of the worst calamities for jockeys occur when injured horses suddenly fall. Fewer breakdowns of horses mean fewer serious accidents for jockeys.

The reasons for a hard push for further improvements in jockey safety are not just humanitarian. They are pragmatic as well.

 

 

 Serious injuries to either riders or horses deprive the sport of its present and future stars, and horrify racing's customers. Some changes admittedly are expensive, but they should be viewed as necessary investments in the sport's future. Ultimately, safety is in the best interests of every sector of the racing game.

Derby Week is a good time to keep that in mind.

 

 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Insurance issues include costs and who pays

The racing industry has argued, sometimes bitterly in recent years, over who should pay for
injured jockeys' medical bills, rehabilitation and associated costs.

Some states — most notably California, New York, New Jersey and Maryland — provide for
jockeys to be covered under special workers' compensation programs.

But in other states, it has become a controversial subject because jockeys by almost any definition are independent contractors, free to ride what, when and where they please.

Effective medical and disability insurance can be difficult and very expensive for jockeys to obtain because of their risky profession, and the vast majority of them make far less than top riders at the bigger tracks. Further, policies can exclude previously injured body parts to the point that some jockeys say there's no point having insurance.

 

The issue came to a head nationally in 2004 after jockey Michael Rowland died of brain
injuries when a horse broke down at Turfway Park (the first such death in Kentucky since
1976, and third documented overall), and Gary Birzer was paralyzed in a spill at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia.

It was only then that many members of the Jockeys' Guild learned that their management at the time had dropped its accident insurance.

That fall, some jockeys refused to ride at Churchill Downs in protest of the $100,000-per-
jockey-per-accident insurance policy that Churchill, and most other tracks offered at the
time. Those riders were temporarily banned from Churchill-owned tracks, as management argued that a walkout was no way to solve a complex problem that required an industrywide solution.

In 2005, Churchill was among those leading the way to raise its accident insurance coverage to $1million per jockey per accident, which the majority of tracks provide today — although some smaller tracks have $500,000 policies.

The policies are paid by each track, and costs vary widely among them. For instance,
Keeneland, which races about six weeks a year, says it pays $67,760 per year, while Churchill Downs, Inc., which has four tracks racing far more days, pays about $600,000.

Even $1million might not cover all medical and rehabilitation costs of accidents involving brain and spinal-cord injuries. In 2006, Churchill Downs and others helped establish the
Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, which helps catastrophically injured jockeys cover medical and some basic living expenses long after their accidents.

The fund now pays $1,000 a month each to about 60 former riders, along with reimbursing them for Medicare insurance and prescription-drug-plan premiums.

But the fund has struggled to build an endowment. Nancy LaSala, its Illinois-based
executive director, said an endowment of $15 million is needed for adequate funding; it's
currently at $2.1million.

Because there is no permanent funding mechanism, it has relied on fundraisers and
donations from organizations and individuals, such as prominent breeder Will Farish's pledge last summer of $1million over four years.

In 2005, a proposal to put jockeys under workers' compensation in Kentucky died when riders objected to it being partially funded by cutting into purse money for first-place jockeys.

Many Kentucky trainers point out that horsemen are responsible for their own insurance, as well as paying for workers' comp for their stable employees, and that horse owners already are saddled with too many costs. They believe jockeys should be responsible for their
insurance.

But horsemen in workers' comp states say the right model brings down costs for everyone and protects owners and trainers from lawsuits involving injured riders.
 

Prominent racing-industry insurance broker John Unick said an affordable solution is to offer
jockeys excess-coverage policies that would kick in if a track policy maxes out. The question, however, remains who would pay the premiums

 

 

Reach Jennie Rees at (502) 582-4042 or  
jrees@courier-journal.com
.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Injured jockey is working to make miracles happen

The 24-year-old apprentice jockey was severely injured in a spill last August at Arlington Park after being thrown head-first to the ground in just the 372nd mount of his career. He was paralyzed from the waist down and sustained brain trauma, among other injuries.

“We didn't know if he was going to live or die,” said his father, Sandy Straight. “From seeing him that night and that month, and seeing him now, it's a miracle.”

Today, after seven months of slow but significant progress, Michael Straight is at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington taking on the greatest challenge he has faced.

After spending six weeks in a coma, Straight has undergone speech and occupational therapy — relearning such simple tasks as dressing and shaving. He has no lingering effects from his brain injury, but the paralysis looms as a much greater obstacle.

 “I'm at 100 percent, other than I can't walk,” Straight said recently. But even that is changing in a small but hopeful way.

Straight and his parents joined his twin brother, Kentucky jockey Matthew Straight, earlier this month in Lexington. Michael Straight not only wanted to get back to the horse-centric area where he has many friends, he also wanted to undergo therapy at Cardinal Hill, known for its work with brain and spinal-cord-injury patients.

An integral part of his therapy is the Lokomat, a machine that uses a harness, lift and robotics to allow patients to walk on a treadmill to retrain neurological functions. The $300,000 machine is the only one used for therapy (as opposed to research) between Chicago and Atlanta, according to Jenny Wurzback, Cardinal Hill's director of community relations.

“That's the best machine I've used so far,” Michael Straight said. “… It's challenging. It's
actually me on my own two feet — and that's what I want to be. Since my accident ... that's the first time I've taken two steps forward. I don't like taking them backward ... got to take them forward.”

He hopes he'll keep progressing.

“Just being back here in Lexington is a godsend,” he said. “... My feeling is I'm getting so much better, so much quicker, now that I'm up here, I really think one day I'm going to be able to walk. Whether it's with canes or something, I'm going to at least be on two feet. That's my No. 1 goal in life right now ... to walk.”

Matthew Straight was among the first graduates of the North American Racing Academy, which  Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron created in Lexington. Michael joined the two-year program a year after his brother.

Because of their sons' love for racing, Sandy and Beth Straight had planned to move to Lexington when they retired from their state government jobs in New York.

Now they are on leave at half-pay from their jobs. Fortunately, Michael Straight's medical
expenses are covered by
Arlington Park's $1million-per-accident insurance policy.

The Straights have not been home since Aug. 26. They were watching the Arlington races on television that afternoon, hoping to see their son win his 40th race. Instead they saw his mount, the 6-5 favorite, clip heels in traffic and fall.

“He was down; it happened so quick,” Sandy Straight said. “It was a nightmare. The worst.”

They flew to Chicago that night.

Michael Straight says he hit head-first so hard that he fractured four vertebrae and bruised his spinal cord. “My spine is completely intact, which is very, very good. If it was severed, I would never walk again,” he said. “They put a rod and screws in my back just to hold everything in place.”

The next rehabilitation was in Jacksonville, Fla., where the Straights have family and the weather was warmer. Matthew Straight temporarily moved his tack to Tampa Bay Downs to be closer. Now he's riding at Kentucky tracks and others in the region.

Three months before Michael Straight's accident, the brothers visited Rene Douglas, Chicago's leading rider, after Douglas was paralyzed in a spill.

“I said, ‘Maybe that could be one of us one day,'” Michael Straight recalled. “But I'd wanted to be a jockey so long, and I loved actually being a jockey. So I thought about it just a little bit, not too much to where it would scare me to ride.

“When it happened, I felt so bad for Rene; I couldn't believe it happened. I was there that day (at Arlington). I've seen my spill quite a bit, but I don't like seeing anyone else's.”

Asked why he's watched the replay of his spill about 50 times, he replied:

“I think it motivates me. Falling on the ground like that can't stop me.”

Reach Jennie Rees at (502) 582-4042 or  
jrees@courier-journal.com
. Comment on this
story and read her blog at
www.courier-journal.
com/rees
.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jockey safety no sure bet, dangerous sport seeks improvements

There can be so much flying dirt that they might go through four or five pairs of goggles in a race, pulling them down one at a time — all while changing holds on the reins, managing a whip and concentrating on the positions of their horse and those nearby and ahead.

One lapse in focus, one misstep, one clipped heel can send a thoroughbred jockey — and perhaps his mount — to the ground, where the impact is compounded by the prospect of being crushed by the horse or struck by a trailing competitor.

The danger is very real.

According to statistics collected by the Jockeys' Guild, which represents riders in financial and workplace issues involving tracks and horsemen, 128 riders have died since 1940 from injuries suffered on racetracks in the United States. That includes an average of at least one a year from 1991 — when there were three deaths — until now.

Even more jockeys are crippled while racing; currently, about 60 riders who suffered brain or spinal-cord injuries receive modest aid from the industry's Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

Yet there is no national database of jockey injuries. And some jockeys and others in the industry — in part citing equine safety and welfare initiatives made after the fatal breakdown of 2008 Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles — say there's more focus on the horses than the human athletes.

It “is not even close,” said Terry Meyocks, national manager of the Jockeys' Guild and a former track executive, who contends too many horsemen have the attitude that if something happens to a rider, “there's another one who will go out and ride the horse the next race.”

Jockeys applaud any improvement in equine safety and acknowledge it also helps protect the riders. And they praise jockey-safety measures at prominent tracks such as Lexington's Keeneland Race Course and Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc.

But the Jockeys' Guild and others say national standards are necessary to minimize the danger, no matter the track where he or she rides.

“If a rider had gone down in (the Eight Belles) accident, you kind of wonder if there would be the same outcry,” said Dr. Barry Schumer, Keeneland's medical director, who noted that riders have told him “they feel they probably don't get the same level of concern the horses do in some ways.

“… The riders are injured, they're scooped up off the track, and off they go,” he said. “I think everybody does their best to sort of put a positive spin on it. But the fact is, there are some real tragedies.”

Specifically, the Guild and others cite the need for:

A coordinated, nationwide effort to document jockey injuries and the conditions in which they occur, which would allow officials to spot trends and the need for industrywide changes. Such tracking of equine fatalities began two years ago after the fatal breakdowns of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro and Eight Belles in '08, but there is no such database for jockey injuries.

Implementation of national standards for safety equipment, ambulances, on-site medical personnel and procedures for dealing with injuries.

More stringent requirements for getting a jockey's license and more consistent and severe enforcement of rules intended to prevent reckless riding.

Increased jockey involvement in designing safety equipment and greater collaboration with other sports to piggyback off innovative technology. For instance, could racing some day adapt the safety-vest airbag technology now in its infancy for motorcycle racing?

Better insurance and financial protection for injured jockeys.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, an alliance of tracks and horsemen, believes its new Safety & Integrity Alliance will bring the industry together to implement many of those measures.

“People's heads are in the right place; I think sometimes it takes more time than we want,” said Mike Ziegler, the safety alliance's executive director. “The ball's moving, but there's a lot more to be done. … This is the first step out of the gate. And every year, these standards are going to get raised.”

Apprentice jockey Michael Straight, who suffered head and spinal-cord injuries in a spill at Arlington Park last August, is among those who agree changes are necessary.

“A lot of people out there don't think about the jockey safety,” said Straight, who remains paralyzed. “They don't see you actually go down all the time. But if you're in the (jocks') room, you definitely know the pain of the game.”

‘INCREDIBLY BRAVE'

Jockeys face dangers

The last significant study of jockey injuries in the United States was published in 2000 by emergency-medicine researchers at the University of North Carolina.

That study, based on 1993-96, reported 6,545 injuries serious enough for treatment among 2,700 licensed jockeys at 114 U.S. tracks. Nearly 20 percent of the injuries were to the riders' heads or necks. More than a third occurred in or around starting gates, accounting for 30 percent of the head injuries.

The Jockeys' Guild says its most recent figures show there were 1,792 licensed riders in the U.S. who rode at least one race in 2007. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission licensed 174 riders in 2009.

While there is no more recent national data on jockey injuries, Keeneland says it treated eight jockeys for injuries and sent three to the hospital for observation or treatment during 32 racing days last year. Churchill, during its 66 race days in 2009, had 12 jockeys checked out by its first-aid department, with one going to the hospital by ambulance and a couple of others later going on their own.

Dr. Michael Karpf, who is head of the University of Kentucky's A.B. Chandler Hospital, a level-one trauma center where Keeneland sends injured riders, said he is surprised he doesn't see more at his hospital.

“The first time I saw them (races) close up, it really scared the living daylights out of me in terms of the potential for chain reactions and (to) have multiple jockeys going down,” he said, adding that jockeys “are incredibly brave individuals.”

Most jockeys who go down in a spill or starting-gate accident are back riding in a day or two. Others might be out for two to eight weeks if they break a collarbone, arm or leg — the most frequent fractures jockeys incur.

When Julia Brimo went down last October at Keeneland, she suffered a contusion to her spinal cord, initially causing paralysis in her arms and legs. She is walking again and has regained significant movement in her arms. She vows to ride again.

Two Arlington Park jockeys — Rene Douglas and Straight, the apprentice — were not so fortunate. Neither can walk today.

Douglas — winner of 3,588 races, including the 1996 Belmont Stakes — was paralyzed after a spill at Arlington last May. Straight's accident came three months later.

Straight's long-term prognosis is uncertain, but he said that he has no regrets or bitterness. “If I … wasn't so injured, I'd probably be a jockey after it heals up,” he said. “It's something I love.”

Meyocks suggested that the industry may take advantage of such sentiments — although he praises individuals such as prominent farm owners Bill Casner of WinStar and Will Farish of Lane's End for their work in helping disabled riders.

“We've got to take care of the horses, no question,” said Meyocks, the third generation in his family to be in racing. “ … The horse doesn't have the choice (to race), but the riders do and they know the danger. But at the same time, the entire industry needs to make sure we do everything we can not only for the jocks, but the exercise riders and trainers.”

New York jockey Richard Migliore agreed, noting that while the inherent danger is “something we accept,” more needs to be done to help ensure safety and take care of those who suffer major injuries.

Migliore, who returned to riding after sustaining a near-fatal neck injury in 1988, was interviewed before learning April 12 that he'd re-fractured several vertebrae when his mount suffered a fatal breakdown in a Jan. 23 race at Aqueduct — meaning he'd been riding two months with a broken neck. He'll have surgery May 4 and will be out six to eight months.

IMPROVEMENTS

Safety alliance ruleshave increased safety

Recent interviews with riders across the country show that not everyone sees the need for major safety changes. California jockeys, in particular, had only good things to say about how progressive racing authorities there are on safety matters.

“Don't worry about the jockeys; the jockeys will be fine,” said Corey Nakatani, who suggested that the economics of the sport is a bigger concern. “Worry about getting owners into the game.”

Retired Hall of Fame rider Don Brumfield, now a steward at Gulfstream Park near Fort Lauderdale, noted how far things have come since he started riding in 1954, when he said the only safety equipment was “a cork skullcap and a jock strap.”

But proponents of increased safety measures have some powerful backers, including officials at Keeneland, one of the first tracks to add protective padding in the starting gate and one of the few to employ a medical director with the authority to establish policy.

“There is never a day that you've conquered” all the safety issues in racing, Keeneland president Nick Nicholson said. “There is never a day when there is final victory.”

The NTRA safety alliance, which the Guild strongly supports, also is pushing states and racetracks to implement its recommended safety standards.

To date, the alliance's 16 accredited members — including Churchill, Keeneland and Turfway in Kentucky — must adhere to these requirements:

Every person on a horse or pony on the track must wear a helmet that meets safety standards specified by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, the Lexington-based trade association of state and national regulators.

Safety vests designed to provide shock-absorption protection must be worn by anyone on a horse, as well as assistant starters working on the starting gate.

Starting gates should be padded, according to the commissioner group's rules, to better protect horse and jockey.

Use of the new Jockey Health Information System, an Internet-based program inspired by Keeneland's Schumer, in which riders provide medical information such as previous injuries and allergies before they ride so it is available in the event of an emergency at the track.

“Not only is it the right thing to do, but the fans are demanding it,” said NTRA president Alex Waldrop. “ . . . We have to do everything we possibly can within reason to ensure the safety of our human and equine athletes.”

RAILS AND GATES

But much workremains to be done

Two of the biggest advancements in protecting riders and horses have been what are generically called safety rails (the earliest versions surfaced in the 1980s) and, more recently, padding starting gates.

Safety rails are designed to reduce injuries to riders thrown into the inner rail of the track. The 24-inch-wide flexible aluminum cover, slightly tilted, uses a trampoline effect to bounce riders inward, out of harm's way.

Churchill spent $230,000 in 2001 for a safety rail patented by Louisville-based industry leader Horsemen's Track and Equipment in 2001, and updated it several years ago.

Keeneland was the first track in the state to install a safety rail in 1983 and replaced it in 2006. It also began in 2000 teaming with Equine Environmental Consulting near Harrodsburg, to use high-tech materials to cover any metal in the starting gate that a horse or human could touch. Churchill followed a few years later, adding the material in stages and finishing last year.

Other innovations include collapsible rails on some turf courses; vastly improved safety vests and helmets; and distance track poles made of softer synthetics rather than the traditional wood or metal.

But such efforts can be expensive.

Churchill Downs Inc. says it spends about $1million a year in safety-related measures at its four tracks, while Keeneland, which is at the forefront of the push for jockey safety, spends more than $500,000.

Jack Hanessian, general manager for Cincinnati's River Downs, says it cannot afford the safety rail advocated by the Jockeys' Guild. It would cost about $500,000 “that we don't have,” he said. And he challenges the name “safety rail,” saying, “We don't like to consider our rail as unsafe.”

The New York Racing Association also does not use safety rails at Saratoga, Belmont or Aqueduct.

Meanwhile, budget cuts have forced some tracks to reduce numbers of assistant starters, who help load horses into the gates and ensure the safety of jockeys and horses.

The Jockeys' Guild says just such situations underscore the need for a national database on jockey accidents.

The idea is that a collaborative effort to review all accidents — where they happen on the track; what type surface; what safety equipment was used— could allow experts to spot dangerous trends and specific need for changes.

“It's something that has been talked about a long time but there's been no movement on it,” Schumer said. “That's an example of what we can do to improve not only to help prevent injuries but to learn how to better treat them so we can have better outcomes.”

Some trainers and jockeys note anecdotally, for example, that there seems to be an increase in cases of fractured vertebrae in the neck. Could that be an unintended result of certain safety-vest designs?

A database might also help resolve questions raised after the three spinal-cord injuries occurring on Polytrack surfaces in a five-month span last year: Could synthetic surfaces be a factor in the degree of injuries?

Keeneland's Nicholson, whose track is co-owner of the North American Polytrack-brand of synthetic surfaces, says he doesn't think so, and he noted there was a death on a dirt track last year.

But he agreed the issue should be part of further research into safety. “We have to be intellectually objective and honest.”

Prominent rider John Velazquez, chairman of the Jockeys' Guild, said such industry openness is key to long-term safety improvements.

“Things have changed a little in the sense that we have better communication with the industry, and it seems like we're trying to put things together and work with one another,” he said. “But there's a lot of work to do, still a lot of things to get done for us to get where we're supposed to be.”

Reach Jennie Rees at (502) 582-4042 or jrees@courier-journal.com. Comment on this story and read her blog at www.courier-journal.com/rees.

Monday, April 26, 2010

GET WELL’ CARD FOR MIGLIORE AVAILABLE FOR SIGNING AT BELMONT MAY 1

 The card will be displayed by the NYRA Store in the Clubhouse from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. and will be available for signing by the NYRA Store in the Grandstand from 1 – 3 p.m. After 3 p.m., the card will be walked around to various locations within the building.

 Migliore, one of the most popular riders in New York, was diagnosed with a concussion following a spill at Aqueduct on January 23. He returned to the saddle two weeks later, but continued to experience pain in his neck, leading to the discovery that he had also reinjured his neck in the accident. Now 46 years old, Migliore had previously suffered a serious neck injury at Belmont Park back in 1988.

 A native of Brooklyn, Migliore won the 1981 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice, and was NYRA’s leading rider that year and in 1985. “The Mig” has captured 10 meet titles at Aqueduct, having most recently won the 2005 Spring meet title. In 2008, he posted his first victory in a Breeders’ Cup race when he guided Desert Code to an upset score in the inaugural Turf Sprint, and teamed up with Flashing to win last year’s Grade 1 Test at Saratoga and Grade 1 Gazelle at Aqueduct.
NYRA Communications Department

 

 

Friday, April 23, 2010

PRADO WINS FIVE ON THURSDAY CARD AT AQUEDUCT

 Prado’s first winner came in the third race aboard Al Gold’s Rule by Night ($6.40), who edged away late to score in a six-furlong optional claimer for 3-year-olds.  In race 5, Prado prevailed by a neck aboard Vinnies Wild Tale ($6.50), then kicked off the late Pick 3, leading gate-to-wire atop longshot Eighttofasttocatch ($29.60) in race 7, a 1 1/16-mile turf allowance.

 

Prado completed his sweep of the late Pick 3 – which returned $883 – with a win aboard favored Four Shore ($7.10) in race 8 and a late-surging grass victory aboard Budget ($14) in race 9.

 

“It feels great today,” said Prado.  “I had a little bit of a slow meet in Florida and I wanted to come back here and rebuild my business – work hard and try to be among the best, like I used to be.  I’m glad to have this opportunity back again so that I can show that I still can ride like I used to.”

 

The Peruvian-born Prado has won ten individual meet riding titles at NYRA’s three tracks, and in 2005 finished atop the NYRA standings for the year with 206 victories.  His most recent NYRA title came in the 2008 Belmont Fall meet, during which he rode 33 winners. 

 

Prado is the second jockey to ride five winners at Aqueduct this year.  On February 17, leading rider Ramon Dominguez recorded five wins on the first five races of the day’s card.

 

Eddie Castro holds the national record for races won on a single card, winning nine races at Calder on June 4, 2005.

 

“This business goes up and down, it’s a rollercoaster,” said Prado.  “You don’t know what the next day is going to give to you.  I’m very excited that we had a beautiful day today for a lot of different people and hopefully it will carry into Belmont.”
NYRA Communications Department

 

-30-

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jockey Joe Talamo isn't saddled by age

In about nine months, he will be able to drink a beer, legally, after one of his prestigious victories. By then, he might just buy the brewery.

That the 20-year-old has achieved so much at such an early stage is best put into perspective by Talamo himself, when he talks about his beginnings at Fair Ground in New Orleans.

"My mom would take me to the track in the morning," he says. "Some days, I was winning two and three races. Then, when I was done, my dad would come and pick me up and take me home."

That was four years ago. Talamo was 16.

By March 2007, having been discovered by the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, Talamo showed up at Santa Anita. He was going to stay for a few days, then move on to New York permanently. But he won a bunch of races immediately, went to New York for a short stay and returned to compete in what has always been one of the most competitive jockey colonies in the world.

"In New York, it was windy and wet and cold," Talamo says. "In L.A., it was 80 degrees every day. So I came back."

Talamo was young, but not stupid.

In short order, Talamo won 250 races in the 2007 season, brought home purses worth nearly $11 million and was an easy winner of the Eclipse Award for the nation's best apprentice jockey. In his 2007 season in California, he became the first apprentice jockey to win two Grade I races on the same card, July 7 at Hollywood Park.

He hadn't even won his first race anywhere until July 2006.

His success rate is more accelerated than his need to shave.

Talamo won the Turf Sprint in the Breeders' Cup in November, aboard California Flag, and has already traveled to Hong Kong and Dubai to race.

Indeed, had his biggest moment turned out the way many expected, they'd be predicting a Shoemaker or McCarron-like career for him right now. But horse racing has a way of dishing out reality to all ages, and Talamo's dose came at last year's Kentucky Derby, where he was scheduled to ride the favorite, I Want Revenge. The morning of the race, the horse was scratched because of an injury, the first time in memory that that had happened.

Talamo had a big crew of family and friends on hand.

"There is only my sister and me," he says, "but my dad was one of 10 kids and I have cousins all over the place, a typical big Italian family, and I spent all my time taking care of everybody else.

"I don't think what happened has really sunk in for me, even now."

He has yet to ride in another Triple Crown race, and for many jockeys, that one shot is the only one. Not for Talamo.

He will be aboard Sidney's Candy only 11 days from now in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, and his John Sadler-trained horse is much more than one of those just happy to make the field. Sidney's Candy moved high on the chart of short-odds runners in the Kentucky Derby with his impressive victory in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3. Favored Lookin At Lucky was caught in a controversial snarl behind Talamo on the rail. But Sidney's Candy drew away from the field so well, and with so little urging from Talamo, that many think he would have beaten Lookin At Lucky no matter what.

"He's a wonderful horse," Talamo says. "What he does so different from others is that he gets in the clear and relaxes, rather than digging harder and tightening up."

Talamo's Derby ride will make his life hectic for the next several weeks, at least.

He will ride in Wednesday's opening day at Hollywood Park and also will be on hand Saturday, where a total of $860,000 will be offered in purses on a day labeled the California Gold Rush. Before, after and in between, he will fly back to Louisville to work Sidney's Candy in preparation for the Derby.

On Derby day, the family will be on hand again. It'll be mom, Joy, who wanted him to be a doctor or lawyer; dad, Joe, who supplemented his income from his air-conditioning company by working as a part-time horse trainer during the Louisiana winters; his sister, Christie, whom Talamo says had the family book smarts and is a hotel manager in New Orleans, and dozens of cousins.

Oh, yes, and Talamo's girlfriend, Elizabeth Ellis, who helped ease the sadness of Derby Day last year. Her grandfather liked birds and so, with Talamo not riding, she decided to wager $10 across the board on a 50-1 longshot.

Her bet was on a horse named Mine That Bird.
Bill Dwyre/Los Angeles Times
Monday, April 19, 2010

Jockey Carlos Silva Retired Saturday

 This is the end of a riding career that began 32 years ago in the United States in 1978.  Since then, Silva has won more than his share of big races in a profession that has seen him in the winner’s circle more than 3,500 times.

Carlos certainly made his mark on the Chicago circuit.  He currently stands third all-time for victories at Arlington Park and he is second at Hawthorne, behind only Randy Meier.  Silva holds a pair of riding titles at Hawthorne in 1980 and 1982 and was a top 10 jockey at Arlington Park for nine straight seasons, from 1990-2000. 

In regards to stakes victories, Silva won his share as well. He won the Hawthorne Juvenile on three occasions, and posted some dominating days during the Illinois-bred stakes cards.  He was victorious in the 1981 Hawthorne Derby aboard longshot Jeremy Jet, who would later become the 1981 Illinois Horse of the Year.

One of the best jockey-trainer combinations in the 1990’s was the team of Carlos Silva-Gene Cilio.  The duo teamed up for three consecutive stakes scores during the Illinois Festival of Racing on December 2, 1995 to cap a year that had earlier seen the pair win four consecutive races at Sportsman’s Park on April 24.  Cilio provided Silva many great opportunities.

“When Gene returned to training in Illinois, he started with a single three-year-old filly named Call the Lady that I won on and we later won a stakes race together.  The next year, he purchased a farm in Illinois, in the mid 1980’s, and we were together from that point on.  We were really good friends and were a great team together. There was just so much trust between the two of us.  We won so many stakes together. The two that stand out for me were Your Ladyship and Take Note of Me.  It was tough when Gene passed because we were so close, but his brother Ron was so good to me as well and I cherish the relationship that we had.”

In recent years, the duo of Silva and Richard Hazelton became a very formidable combo and it is only fitting that both marked the end to great career this spring at Hawthorne.  When browsing past Illinois Stakes winners for Hazelton, runners ridden by Silva show up in nearly every state-bred stakes run.  Stakes winners for the combo include Seven Brides, Prairie King, Caruso, Meadow Bride, Shandy, Classic Appeal, Devil’s Halo, Rolling Sea, Copper State, and Daisy Junebug.  Many of these horses, became state-bred champs. Silva has always been a supporter of Illinois racing.

“I had an opportunity to start riding for Richard early in the 1990’s. At the start it was only a horse here and there.  As we had success, it became more horses then Richard asked me to ride all of his horses.  We became a great team, along with owners Richard and Gail Radke and Ben Barnow, and they supported me 100%.  We had so much success together and I thank them all for the support they gave me.”

While Silva is riding off into the sunset in regards to his riding career, it doesn’t mean he is leaving the racetrack.  In fact, Silva is only changing professions to another career that he already knows well.

“I am going to start working for Brandon Meier as his jock’s agent. I have been my own agent for the past two years so I know what the job is all about.  When I was thinking about ending my riding career I was trying to figure out what I was going to do and what I know is the racetrack.  Brandon and I started talking and I thought it was a joke when he asked me to hustle his book.  He said he was serious and I asked him to think about it for a few days and make sure that this was what he wanted to do.  He thought about it and we are going to team up.  We will start out at Arlington.  We are going into a tough meeting there and we know it will be hard.  The best thing is we are both hard workers which will pay off.  He is a very good rider and will only improve.  The trainers have been very supportive of me and know how good of a rider Brandon is and I have my confidence in him.”

“I have had a good career, I am happy with my decision to retire from riding and my family is very supportive. I am very excited and thank Brandon for giving me the opportunity to be his agent.”

While we will miss seeing Carlos in the winner’s circle, we wish him the best of luck, sending his young rider to the circle, hopefully many times! Hawthorne Race Course Communications Dpeartment

 

 

 

 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jockeys take the stage to support injured riders

A host of elite jockeys and retired riders entertained a packed Friday night crowd at Keeneland Race Course with heartfelt, if slightly off-key, versions of their favorite songs at Riders Up!, the second annual karaoke competition and auction benefiting the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF).

“It’s been extraordinarily fulfilling,” said Court, who serves as vice president on the PDJF board of directors. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from the East Coast, West Coast, and people abroad. We all continue to do this to better the lives of those who have fallen by the wayside and sacrificed all.”

One of those riders Court was describing was 24-year-old Michael Straight. The apprentice jockey is in a wheelchair because of a spinal injury suffered in a spill on August 26 at Arlington Park. He currently receives treatment at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Center in Lexington and works with a Lokomat, a treadmill-type machine that helps people with spinal-cord injuries learn to walk again.

On Friday, Straight, flanked by his twin brother and fellow jockey, Matthew, along with a host of riders, belted out Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” before an enthusiastic crowd.

“It’s tons of fun just to be able to be up there with those kinds of people,” Michael Straight said. “It brings me back to my old days down here in Kentucky, when I used to be just a jockey and nothing else. Now I’m being part of the PDJF and just being part of this, it’s so much fun just to be on stage with [Matthew]. If it was just me and him on stage, it would’ve been just as cool.”

The PDJF helps provide financial assistance to injured riders and works with both the racing industry and medical research groups to improve safety conditions and reducecatastrophic injuries.

Fundraisers such as Riders Up! not only help fund the PDJF, which was incorporated in 2006, but allow the riders to interact with their fans and support the colony of riders.

While all of the riders entertained the crowd, a couple jockeys in particular stood out. Jockey Dean Mernagh received the judge’s award after getting a standing ovation for his version of “That’s Life”. Retired jockey Charlie Woods brought down the house with his Rod Stewart impersonation, complete with leopard-print tights, while accompanied by Julien Leparoux and Tony Farina as his backup dancers. Woods won the People’s Choice Award for receiving the most donations during his performance.

Most importantly, however, was the family of jockeys supporting their brothers andsisters in the sport. “Being a rider that has broken his neck three times, all it takes is one of those spills to be disabled,” Garrett Gomez said. “This is a big night for all the riders and hopefully, we can keep it going and provide for the disabled riders.”

To learn more and donate to the PDFJ, click here.—Tim Nichols

Friday, April 16, 2010

Arlington Park Jockeys Required to Participate in JHIS

All Arlington jockeys will have to enroll in the Jockey Health Information

System, an Internet-based medical history database developed

by Keeneland’s medical director, Dr. Barry Schumer, M.D.

Schumer has worked on the e-health system along with the Jockey

Club and its subsidiary InCompass.

The Jockey Health Information System has been in place since 2008.

Before this year, participation by Arlington riders had been voluntary.

“The safety and health of our jockeys is of the utmost importance

to us,” Arlington Park President Roy Arnold said. “Arlington Park has

always been an industry leader and by mandating the jockey colony’s

participation in this important program we can ensure that our riders

will have the highest quality of care. We applaud Keeneland’s example

and echo Dr. Schumer’s hope that other tracks will adopt similar

requirements in the interest of standardizing quality health care for jockeys.

 

Friday, April 16, 2010

JAMES GRAHAM GETS 1,000TH CAREER VICTORY

 A 31-year-old native of Ireland, Graham has recorded 70 of his 1,000 victories at Keeneland. He tallied the first Grade 1 victory of his career at the track last fall when he rode Hot Cha Cha to victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. Two of Graham’s victories have come on Mint Chip, who also won here last October.

   “This is just amazing. It’s great,” said Graham, who also won Thursday’s sixth race aboard Valli With a Vow.           

  “I still the remember the first race I won here. It was on Mr. Ron and he was trained by Jeff Thornbury,” Graham said of the victory on October 8, 2003. “He won only two races in his life: the one here by 9¾ (lengths) and one at the Fair Grounds by 21¼ (lengths).”

  After the victory, members of the Keeneland jockey colony congratulated Graham in the winner’s circle.  Keeneland Communications Department

 

 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Jon Court Named Jockey of the Week

With the win, Court led all North American jockeys by purse earnings for the week ended April 14 with $636,632.

Should Line of David go on to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) in a little more than two weeks, Court will be in line to ride in the first jewel of the TripleCrown for the first time in his 30-year career.

Originally from Gainesville, Florida, the 49-year-old Court’s top mounts have included 2005 champion turf male Leroidesanimaux (Brz) and Grade 1 winners Lang Field, Downthedustyroad, Pure as Gold, and Healthy Addiction.

Court was a featured member of the Animal Planet reality series "Jockeys."
Thoroughbred Times TODAY
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Keeneland Leads Safety Efforts

 With the start of the current spring 2010 race meet, all jockeys riding at Keeneland have to enroll in the Jockey Health Information System, an internet-based medical history database developed by the track’s medical director, Dr. Barry Schumer. Dr. Schumer has worked on the e-health system along with The Jockey Club and its subsidiary InCompass.

 “By mandating rider participation in this program at Keeneland, we are hopeful that other racing venues across the country will adopt similar requirements in the interest of standardizing a high level of quality health care for jockeys and injured riders,” Dr. Schumer said. “The program is free for tracks and riders and represents a rare example of a quality health-care improvement at no cost to those involved.”

Here’s how the program works:

·         In the event of a spill, the track’s first responder and first-aid medical staff will have instant access to each rider’s medical health information. That information will assist medical professionals in providing immediate on-site care;

·         Information is forwarded electronically to the University of Kentucky’s Trauma Service, located at A.B. Chandler Hospital, one of the state’s two level 1 trauma centers. In the event of potentially serious injury, jockeys are transported to Chandler Hospital for care.

“We are proud to be the first racetrack in the country to participate in such an important health-care initiative,” said Nick Nicholson, president and CEO of Keeneland. “Nothing is more important than the safety of all those entrusted to our care. We hope our participation in this program will quickly spread across the country so that all the riders who participate in this great sport have the assurance of the highest possible quality of care as quickly as possible.”  Keeneland Race Course Communications Department

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Historic women’s-only race to be run Preakness weekend

On Preakness weekend, eight retired women jockeys are running in the first “Lady Legends Race for the Cure,” organized by the Maryland Jockey Club and benefiting the Susan G. Komen For the Cure foundation, the world’s largest breast cancer organization.

The race will take place on Black-Eyed Susan Day, Friday, May 14 at Pimlico Race Course.

So why is a filmmaker commenting on this race? Well, he and Emmy Award-winning producer Linda Ellman have been following the eight women around for the last few months as they get in shape for the race, which also celebrates the 40th anniversary of the first woman jockey to ride in a Triple Crown race.

According to a news release, the feature-length documentary “Jock” will tell the “story of the courageous female jockeys who overcame sexual harassment, ridicule and life-threatening injuries to wage a gallant fight for the right to ride more than 40 years ago.” Next month’s race will be the closing act of the documentary.

Here are your riders:
• Barbara Jo Rubin, age 60, first woman to win against a man at a recognized racetrack, 41 years ago.
• Jennifer Rowland, 57, top pioneer female rider on the Maryland Circuit in the 70’s.
• Cheryl White, 56, the first African-American female jockey.
• PJ Cooksey, 52, the third all-time leading female jockey with over 2000 wins and breast cancer survivor.
• Mary Wiley Wagner, top 5 apprentice jockey in the nation in 1987 and breast cancer survivor.
• Andrea Seefeldt, Kentucky Derby and Preakness jockey.
• Gwen Jocson, record holder for the most wins in a single year by a woman.
• Mary Russ Tortora, 56, first woman to win a Grade 1 stakes race.

Diane Crump was the first female to ride in a Triple Crown race and placed 15th aboard Fathom in the Kentucky Derby in 1970. In 1993, Julie Krone was the first woman to win a Triple Crown race, taking the Belmont aboard Colonial Affair.

This might be an interesting marketing tool for Pimlico and the Preakness organizers if they’re able to get the word out enough. One thing horse racing has struggle with in the last oh, decade or two, is connecting fans with the jockeys. Sure we all know Big Brown and Rachel Alexandra but race horses come and go — jockeys are around for a lot longer.

Of course, these women are retired and this race is a one-shot deal. Any connection a race watcher might have with them won’t last long. But if track marketers can find similarly compelling story lines among jockeys who are still racing and push those out there, who knows? At this rate, it can’t hurt. Liz Farmer/The Daily Record

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Velazquez Named Jockey of the Week

Velazquez also won the Indistinctly Stakes aboard Sapphire City on March 31 as hebanked $639,860 in earnings during the period.

Through Tuesday, Velazquez ranked third among all North American riders with $2,865,465 in purse earnings for the year.

Trainer Todd Pletcher tapped Velazquez to ride Eskendereya at the start of the Giant’s Causeway colt’s threeyear-old season. In addition to the Wood Memorial, Velazquez and Eskendereya teamed up to win a one-mile allowance race on January 7 at Gulfstream Park and take the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) by an impressive 8½ lengths on February 20.

The 38-year-old Velazquez, the Eclipse Award winner as outstanding jockey in 2004 and ’05, joined forces with Pletcher in ’07 to win the Belmont Stakes (G1) with filly Rags to Riches.  Thoroughbred Times TODAY

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Riders Up! Karaoke Benefit at Keeneland April 16

 The Riders Up! Karaoke event, hosted by TVG’s Todd Schrupp, will be held from 6:00 – 9:00p.m. at the Keeneland Entertainment Center and is open to the public. The casual evening will feature a “Bayou Meets the Bluegrass” buffet and cash bar.  Participating jockeys include John Velazquez, Robby Albarado, Kent Desormeaux, James Graham, Jamie Theriot and retired greats including Pat Day and Charlie Woods.

 Space is limited; tickets are available for purchase online at www.pdjf.org for $50. 

 Meet both retired and current jockeys for an autograph signing session from 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 next to the paddock.  Commemorative posters will be available for autographs for a $10 donation to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

 

For more information about Riders Up! please visit www.jockeysguild.com or information regarding the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, please visit www.pdjf.org.

 

For more information regarding Keeneland, the autograph session, or the 2010 Spring Race meet, please visit www.keeneland.comKeeneland Race Course Communications Department

 

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Albarado Named Jockey of the Week

The Lafayette, Louisiana, native guided three-year-old filly Quiet Temper to a half-length victory in the $300,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) on Friday and was aboard Endorsement for his upset three-length win over previously unbeaten Conveyance in the $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3) on Sunday at Sunland Park.

Albarado, 36, won on only two of his 18 mounts during the period but earned $737,350, nearly $200,000 more than his nearest competitor.

Albarado ranked fourth nationally through Tuesday with $2,514,495 in earnings. He has won 48 times with 44 second-place and 38 third place finishes from 290 starts. Thoroughbred Time TODAY

 

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