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Friday, May 28, 2010

A Weighty Issue

As the Jockeys’ Guild presentation points out, U.S. racing rules have no uniformity regarding weights. Most racing jurisdictions have established differing scales of weight, and many have different rules on weighing procedures.

For example, some rules mandate that riders weigh in without safety equipment (overgirth, helmet) but make weighing the required safety vest optional. Thus, lighter riders weigh with a vest (around 2 lbs.), and heavier riders don’t. This rule needs to be standardized.

As for a national minimum weight, science unequivocally shows us that due to better nutrition and health care, humans are, on average, bigger and heavier than 50 years ago – even those with small frames who would potentially become riders. Yet, by and large here in the U.S., the weights our racing offices assign have changed little in decades.

The time has come for U.S. racing to recognize the need for standardized rules in this area and work with jockeys, tracks, and regulators to pass more uniform weight rules.

Based on this data, The Jockeys’ Guild proposed the following changes to existing RCI Model Rules (
http://ag.arizona.edu/rtip/industry/model_rules_info.html), which serve as guidelines for local racing jurisdictions:

ARCI-010-020 Weights
C. Scale of Weights
(1) With the exception of apprentices, no jockey shall be assigned a weight of less than 118 pounds.
(2) Quarter Horses, Appaloosas and Paints minimum scale weights shall be 120 pounds for two-year-olds, 122 pounds for three-year-olds, and 124 pounds for four-year-olds and older.
(3) A notice shall be included in the daily program that all jockeys will carry approximately three (3) pounds more than the published weight to account for safety equipment (vest and helmet) that is not included in required weighing out procedures. Additionally, upon stewards’ approval, jockeys may weigh in with an additional three (3) pounds for inclement weather gear when approved by the stewards.

ARCI-010-035 Running of the Race
C. Jockey Requirements
(7) Weighing Out
(a) A jockey's weight shall include his/her clothing, boots, saddle and its attachments and any other equipment except the bridle, bit, blinkers, goggles, number cloth and safety equipment including helmet, vest, over-girth, reins and breast collar.
(b) Upon Stewards approval, jockeys may be allowed up to three (3) pounds more than published weights to account for inclement weather clothing and equipment.

By and large, the feedback I have received regarding uniformity in weight rules has been supportive. However, several HBPA affiliates have raised concern that 118 pounds is too high for a minimum weight.

Based on The Jockeys’ Guild’s research, it is evident that in many regions, the bottom weight assigned to journeymen riders is already very close to 118 pounds.

Nonetheless, if the ultimate goal is to end up with a consistent set of rules regarding the weighting of horses, I am certain the proposed minimum could be adjusted.

But on the general point of raising the minimum weight assigned to riders, I suggest this would be a benefit to horsemen for one key reason: extending the careers of those good, experienced, hard-working riders by a few years.

Some concerns I’ve been hearing are that raising the minimum weight would:
  • Just allow exercise riders to ride races
  • Result in “heavy” riders who now struggle making weight continuing to do so
  • Cause more breakdowns

I submit that raising the scale of weights by a few pounds won’t change either of the first two concerns. Skilled riders will always rise to the top, and the rule should be aimed squarely at the professional, disciplined rider who is serious about how he/she controls his/her weight.

To the third point, horses carry 140–150 pounds in the morning and, in steeplechasing, may carry 160-170 pounds over 2 ½-miles and over 18 jumps. Granted, they run slower than flat racing horses. To an 800 – 900 pound racehorse, adding another three to four pounds represents 0.5 percent of that horse’s body weight. Hardly a staggering impost.

We’ve lost some of our best homegrown riders to slightly higher minimum weights. Imagine if Steve Cauthen or Cash Asmussen could have ridden their entire careers in the U.S.?

It’s time to work together to pass sensible and uniform weight rules.

--
Posted By National HBPA to National HBPA: The Horsemen's Daily at 5/28/2010 07:00:00 AM

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Toughest battle yet for Migliore

Migliore wouldn't even make it to his second race that day, Jan. 23, 2010.

As the seven-horse field in the first race at Aqueduct turned for home on that sunny Saturday afternoon, jockey Channing Hill had his mount six lanes wide of the rail. Nearly 10 lengths ahead of him, Migliore was aboard Honest Wildcat, and seemed to be gaining speed for a late push. Honest Wildcat was running stride-for-stride with Cires in a duel for second.

Hill looked up and saw Migliore's horse take what he described as "a bad step." Then he saw Honest Wildcat's back legs flip over the front of his body, and the 4-year-old somersaulted onto the track, pitching Migliore forward as if he had been fired from a slingshot. Migliore landed headfirst on the dirt then rolled to his left, avoiding the flailing horse.

All Hill was thinking as he passed Migliore was, "Thank God I wasn't right behind him; I probably would have run right over the top of him."

As the field finished the six-furlong, $20,000 claiming race, Honest Wildcat and Migliore were both lying motionless on the track. Few spectators in the grandstand were paying attention to Offensive Attack's win. After what seemed like minutes -- in reality it was a matter of seconds -- Migliore got to his knees, his yellow silks caked with dirt. His goggles were still on and he appeared to be trying to compose himself.

"I felt like I could hear and I was conscious of things, I just couldn't see for a few seconds," he said almost two weeks later. Once he realized "there wasn't any blood and nothing felt broken," he crawled on his hands and knees to Honest Wildcat. The horse was lying behind him and appeared to be struggling to get up.

When Migliore, 45, reached Honest Wildcat, he remembered placing an arm across his neck and then he began to pet his head and talk into his ear.

The ambulance that trails the field during every race was on the scene within seconds. It wasn't until emergency medical technicians circled close that Migliore released Honest Wildcat and let the workers tend to him.

Migliore thought he was OK and asked an EMT whether he could try to get up. But as soon as he did, he said, "I had no legs; my legs felt like Jell-O." He lay back down, and the EMT fetched a stretcher from the back of the ambulance.

Then the Equine Ambulance arrived and two men got out of opposite sides of the over-sized vehicle. One jogged to Honest Wildcat's side, while the other pulled what appeared to be a black shower curtain from the back of the emergency vehicle. The curtain hid the scene from the spectators.

While Migliore was being loaded onto and then strapped down to the stretcher, officials were determining the fate of Honest Wildcat -- a 4-year-old bay colt who was running in his 10th race, having won one and earned $35,790 in his career. Should they simply put a splint on his leg, or would it be necessary to inject him with a paralytic, followed by a lethal barbiturate to stop the horse from suffering?

As the ambulance carrying Migliore left the track, heading for North Shore University Hospital in the nearby town of Manhasset on Long Island, a team of people tried to load Honest Wildcat, who was still alive, into the back of the horse ambulance. The horse, it turned out, fractured both sesamoids in his right front leg and had to be euthanized on the backstretch.

Richard Migliore and Desert Code
Richard Migliore and Desert Code won the 2008 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

"It just kind of happened so fast," Migliore said. "A lot of times when a horse breaks a leg, they'll give you like a stride or two to where it almost breaks their momentum a little bit even if they're going to go down. This was just like he ran off the edge of the earth. I mean, he just disappeared."

In 1988, Richard Migliore almost died from a broken neck at Belmont Park when he was 24. Six months later he was back, doing the job he loved since he first walked on the racetrack at 14. For several anxious moments all those years later, it appeared he could be severely injured again, but 10 hours after the spill he left the hospital for home, some 90 miles north of Aqueduct. He had a concussion, blurred vision and general soreness.

He had no inkling that the spill would manifest itself in the weeks and months ahead. There would be days of profound pain, bouts of dizziness and calls to the track saying that he could not ride that day. As spring came and as the pain continued, Migliore, a man who had won 4,450 races, had to confront the question he didn't want to consider: Was his career ending?

***

The doctor agreed to release Migliore on the evening of Jan. 23 after a series of X-rays confirmed that the injury appeared to be just a concussion. It was also determined that there was a small, inconsequential crack in Migliore's hip, but nothing that would require him to stay overnight. Migliore's wife, Carmella, and his oldest son, Joey, 19, picked him up at the hospital.

With her husband's predictions from earlier in the day in mind, Carmella had been watching the live Internet stream on the family computer that afternoon and had called the children over when it appeared their father was going to make a move for the lead. They were watching when the spill occurred.

"Well in true testament to cruel irony, Rich's horse broke down in the first race today," Carmella said in a text message. "We got another bye and an angel was on his shoulder, no one was behind him, and he landed away from [the horse]. I felt uneasy all night talking about all the feelings spills bring, and bam, [I was] reminded yet again. My husband is a warrior, all tests are clear. Just a concussion."

The few days after the incident were the most difficult for Migliore. He had a persistent headache, and whenever he would try to get up and move about, he began to feel nauseated. The spill had caused swelling in his cornea, which prevented him from wearing his contacts and made him sensitive to bright light. Restricted to the confines of his bed or couch, the ultra-active Migliore found himself getting bored. "I couldn't play video games because it would bother me -- I would get dizzy," he said.

On the Monday after the spill, feeling a bit better and desperate to get outside, Migliore let his wife know that he was going to make the quarter-mile walk down to the mailbox. Halfway down the path, "I knew I wasn't going to be able to get back up the hill to the house," Migliore said. "I really didn't feel good, I started to get dizzy, really nauseous, so I called Carmella and she came down the driveway and picked me up, drove me back to the house."

The following week and a half was filled with trips to the neurologist and optometrist, and mostly resting. It did, however, give Migliore a lot of time with his family, which he enjoyed.

All the while, he was anxious to get back on a horse. His agent, Tommy Cordero, continued to line up mounts, knowing that Migliore could be ready to race at any time.

Though the spill and resulting concussion would keep him off horses for nearly two weeks, the injury was merely a hiccup in the bigger picture of Migliore's career.

"That's the thing about this game -- it can be so unpredictable in good ways and in bad ways," Migliore says. "You never know: One morning you wake up and you happen to get the mount on the next great horse, or, God forbid, you take a fall and get banged up a little. When they talk about highs and lows, I guess that embodies all of it right there. When you go out, the last thing on your mind is that is going to happen."

Jockey Richard Migliore
Richard Migliore has won 4,450 races as a jockey.

In the days leading up to his return to racing, Migliore, who appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2010, went out to Belmont Park on a few mornings to work horses and ease his way back into things. While he never second-guessed his decisions, and his family never asked him to step away, he wanted to be certain he didn't rush back. Only Migliore's fans questioned his return, sending him letters begging him to hang up the silks and think of his family. He also had offers for positions within the racing industry that didn't involve getting on a horse, including one from a television network in California that was looking to expand its East Coast coverage and wanted Migliore as a color commentator.

"Sure thing," he responded. "As soon as I'm done racing."

***

On Friday, Feb. 5, Migliore walked into the jockeys room at Aqueduct; he didn't seem to be 100 percent. By his count, this was the "sixth or seventh" concussion he suffered while racing.

Migliore's hands were buried deep in the pockets of his dark green coat; his shoulders were slouched slightly forward; and though there was a smile on his face, his usual ebullience was missing.

He had a mount on a 4-year-old filly named What A Pear. Migliore had been working with the horse and its trainer, Patrick Reynolds, for a few months, trying to get her back into winning form. Migliore managed to bring her home in second place, her best finish in her last nine starts, which delighted Reynolds, but the owners from Tri-Bone Stables were disappointed it wasn't a win. Migliore picked up another mount in the ninth race from Ramon Dominguez, the top jockey at the meet, who had to catch a plane for a race in Florida. The horse, Neversaywhen, started slowly and finished slower.

Walking out to his car that evening, Migliore admitted he was a bit dizzy, but he made it home safely.

The rest of that weekend was a whirlwind. On Saturday, Migliore had a mount in the $100,000 Whirlaway Stakes, on Peppi Knows. The heavy favorite in the race, Eightyfiveinafifty, was a large 3-year-old sprinter trained by Gary Contessa. There was speculation in the media and on the backstretch that the horse could be a Kentucky Derby contender.

Having done his homework on the race -- as he has always done for his mounts, studying the tapes of his horse and the horses he is racing against -- Migliore knew his horse would break quickly from the gate, whereas the favorite was heavy-footed. Eightyfiveinafifty had the inside post, and Migliore's post was the next one over. When the gates opened, Migliore immediately directed Peppi Knows toward the rail, forcing jockey Jorge Chavez to veer toward the rail as well. As they made the turn, after Eightyfiveinafifty had already blown past Migliore's horse despite the strategic tactic, the favorite drifted wide and eventually took himself out of the race entirely, crashing through the outside fence and racing toward the backstretch. Migliore went on to win the race, his biggest of the new year.

The next day, in the third race (his second mount of the day), Migliore was unseated from National Pride as they were coming out of the gate. He landed awkwardly on his feet, and twisted his left knee in the process. He was off his mounts the rest of the day. Five days later, Migliore was coming off his second mount and walking with a slight limp. "I'm beat up," he said.

***

Weeks later, on March 27, Migliore had one of his best days at Aqueduct. He had five mounts and won four. The last came on a 3-year-old bay filly, Lots of Stones, who showed tremendous closing speed in the stretch, going from seventh at the ¼-pole out to a three-and-half-length lead by the wire. Migliore was riding well throughout the day. But the pain through his neck and shoulders was acute. He spent the time between races lying on a bench in the jockey's room trying to alleviate some of the stress on his spine. "After winning four, I'd normally be really happy on my drive home," Migliore said. "But I really didn't care; I was in so much pain."

The neck and shoulder pain had become persistent and was frequently accompanied by numbness in his right hand. "It felt like someone was sticking a claw down my spine and turning it," Migliore said. He turned to painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs and even cortisone shots. Nothing helped. He tried to keep riding, hoping the pain would subside.

"When I was riding was the only time I wasn't aware of it," Migliore said. "It was one of the few times where I could leave the pain behind, but once I was done, it was twice as bad."

A week and a half after his four winners, Migliore was again back in the money on April 7, finishing third and second, respectively, on his first two mounts. His third mount was in the eighth race, and he was riding a 5-year-old bay colt named Success Fee. The horse didn't hold much promise, but Migliore had never been the type to doubt a mount.

Midway through the race, however, Migliore wasn't much concerned with the result. "I was dealing with the pain instead of trying to do my job," he said. The horse and jockey came home sixth. He canceled his remaining mounts. The pain was so great that he didn't think he could endure the three-hour drive back to Millbrook. Instead, he drove to a nearby hotel, got a room and laid flat on his back for 12 hours. In the morning he drove home uncomfortably and, with Carmella, decided it was time to find out what his body was telling him.

In mid-April, on a recommendation from a friend, Migliore went to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan to meet with Dr. Andrew Hecht, a spinal surgery specialist, who had worked with the New York Islanders and New York Jets. After a series of tests, including an MRI and a CAT scan, Hecht invited Migliore and his wife into his office. The Jan. 23 fall that had sent Migliore flying headfirst into the dirt had done more damage than initially suspected. The fall had "buckled" the fusion of the three cervical vertebrae (C3, C4, and C5) from the 1988 fall at Belmont. He had also fractured two new vertebrae (C6 and C7) below the original fusion. In effect, he had rebroken his neck.

As Hecht delivered the results of the tests, Carmella was shaking and couldn't hold back tears. Richard maintained a stunned gaze. Once they got to the car and Carmella broke down, he also let the tears flow. Back at home for a week he tried not to get too down on his situation. He wouldn't allow himself to think beyond the surgery. He spent his days watching "Cops" and "Survivor" and playing PlayStation. But he could stay upright for only 30 minutes at a time before needing to lie down to "settle" himself.

On Monday, April 25, Migliore went in for blood work, a few final tests, and a rundown of what the procedure would entail. A metal plate and a bone graft would be used to fuse the cervical vertebrae. The bone would come from the back of his pelvis. The surgery would not be going through the front of the neck, so there wouldn't be an effect on his voice box, as happened during the surgery in '88. He also would not have to wear a halo after the operation, which would ease the traumatic impact on his children. The recovery was expected to take anywhere from six to eight months.

"[Dr. Hecht] told me, 'If you were my brother, I'd tell you you're never going to race again, but as your doctor I can't say that, so we'll check your options after we get through it,'" Migliore said.

His only recurring regret is that had he known the ride on Success Fee might have been his last, he would have cherished it more.

***

Richard Migliore has made a career of riding horses; fast horses, the strongest horses -- thoroughbreds. He's competed in and won some of the most prestigious races in front of thousands of people, but on three occasions he has been told he would never race again. Once he was told he'd likely never walk again.

He's had some luck along the way. He broke his neck in a spill on May 30, 1988, at Belmont Park that was featured on the television show "Rescue 911"; he suffered a severe forearm injury when a horse in full gallop came down on the limb after Mig had been tossed from his horse, resulting in two permanent plates and 16 screws in his arm; and the day before he was to ride the favorite in the Breeders Cup Mile, a loose horse in the paddock plowed straight into him while he was on another mount. He fractured his ankle and fibula and partially ruptured his Achilles tendon.

Jockey Richard Migliore and Student Council
Richard Migliore won the 2007 Pacific Classic aboard Student Council.

And yet, he continued to race. Migliore's profession is often misunderstood and underappreciated in today's sporting world. To the average fan or viewer, the horses are the athletes, the jockeys just the passengers guiding them in the right direction. Most don't see beyond colorful outfits and diminutive frames.

"The thing about other sports, particularly baseball, most people have had some experience playing the game as a kid," Migliore says. "How many people have actually ridden a horse, let alone competitively, in any form? So it's hard for people to relate to me as an athlete, even though if you take all the tests, pound-for-pound we're probably some of the fittest and strongest athletes out there. But for you to look at a 114-pound guy and say this is a premier athlete, people have a hard time relating."

For Migliore, an alternative career has never been a consideration. Horse racing has been his livelihood from well before he had a driver's license. It's a sport that has taught him more about himself than he ever expected to learn, and also provided for him and his family. Which is why he approaches the sport differently than the rest of the men and women in the jock's room.

"I do this because I genuinely love to ride horses and I love what I do," Migliore says. "And I'm smart enough to know that everything that is good in my life, directly or indirectly, is because of horses."

Although the mounts continue to come for Migliore, he's beginning to settle into the next phase of his life. Beyond his racing talents, owners and trainers have come to value Migliore for his horsemanship. With all his years of riding, he has developed a sixth sense about the personalities and idiosyncrasies of horses. In the summer of 2009 he signed a contract with Godolphin Stables, a powerhouse in the game owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai, to help prep and race the stable's top-level horses.

"People like to use me on younger horses because they know I'm going to teach them properly, that I'm going to help develop a racehorse for a career, not a single race," Migliore says. "In a way, I'm like a good player becoming a player-coach."

But that hasn't changed his approach to the life he loves. In Migliore's mind, he's still fooling everyone. The notion first struck him when he was riding first-class on a flight to Hong Kong in 2007, his seat fully reclined, staring out of the window to the stars above.

"I was lying there and it just hits me: I'm still getting away with it. Because I can ride a horse, I get to do cool things like this. They actually pay me to fly on this totally cool plane and look at the stars and go ride a horse 10,000 miles from home."

It's in these moments that the 14-year-old who left home to be a jockey, sacrificing a normal childhood, shows in his face. Sitting in a chair in the jock's room at Aqueduct, his feet up on the seat, hugging his knees to his chest, he shares this confession. The youngest of four children, who took his dad's advice to dream big, is smiling with self-appreciation.

***

Thirty-one years later, life went on as usual around the backstretch on a midwinter day at Belmont Park. Migliore arrived just after 6 a.m. to work a few horses. He had an appointment afterward, but had to cancel to get to Aqueduct. He needed to drop some weight before his first mount.

That morning he awakened and was 116 pounds; he prefers to be between 112 and 114. After winning a stakes race Sunday afternoon, he was in a festive mood and deviated from his typically rigorous eating habits. He blamed Carmella's chocolate cupcakes.

Some time reading in the steam room, a dip in the whirlpool, and he dropped two pounds. "I know it sounds absurd, but when you're so in tune with your weight, when you're carrying an extra pound or two, you really feel that difference," he said.

Migliore claims to feel the difference even when he's wearing his wedding ring, which is why he's usually so strict about his diet. Every morning he has his cup of coffee, just one. He takes his vitamins and supplements, and then he sips water throughout the day. He has only a single meal, typically at night, and doesn't snack. His one vice is that he likes to have a few glasses of wine at night with his meal.

No chicken ("it's too plain"), very little red meat ("because it makes me heavy"), but a whole lot of fish ("I love fish; I probably eat fish five nights a week"), he said.

In his early racing years, maintaining a consistent weight was the most challenging aspect of the life. Weight and injuries are the primary reasons why the average jockey's career span is only three years. For Migliore, adapting to the minimal calorie intake had a detrimental effect on his psyche.

"When I was a kid, I did it all wrong," he said. "It never showed up on me physically so much, but mentally I would break down. I just had no patience for people. People would say things that struck me as dumb, and I'd let them know about it."

Eventually he came to understand the nature of the industry. As much as he needed to discipline himself physically, he needed to also get himself together mentally.

***

In 1988, during the first race at Belmont on Oct. 30, he was riding Madam Alydar. As the pack rounded the turn for home, his horse collapsed. Migliore was thrown in the path of the field, and he was trampled. He suffered a broken neck, and according to the surgeon, Dr. Arthur Weber, at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Migliore was millimeters away from becoming a quadriplegic. The initial thinking was that he would certainly never race again, and that there was a good chance he wouldn't walk again.

After surgery was complete and he was ready to begin the rehabilitation process, he had faith he could get back on horses; he just needed to convince the rest of his support group. He said, "I was getting better and better, so nobody wanted to knock me down, to cut me down and put any kind of negativity on it. I'd say, 'I'm going to ride again,' and I would get the 'Oh, sure you are,' that real patronizing speak. And it would just infuriate me because I go, 'These people don't understand, I'm … going to ride again. I'm coming back!"

Incrementally, he began to show progress. Once it was clear that the threat of paralysis was gone, both he and Carmella knew it was not if but when would he be back on horses.

"I remember how hard it was, how frustrating it was [to rehabilitate after the injury] and it kind of made me a better person, made me a better rider," he said. "I have a great belief that everything in life happens for a reason; we're just really, really lucky when we figure out what those reasons are. At the time, I went through a lot of feeling sorry for myself, 'Why did this happen to me?' I was fighting through the pain and it was a struggle. It was a really hard time, bad time in my life. And I remember when I started feeling a little bit better and I knew in my heart I was going to get back, I'm going to make it back, I swore to myself and made a deal with God, 'If I ever get back to doing what I love to do, which is riding horses, I'll never take it for granted, not one second of any day. I'm going to do it to the best of my ability, I'm going to treat it with the importance and the privilege that it is, not that it's my right to go out there and win races.' And I've never lost that feeling."

Six months later, Migliore was back and he maintains his feelings haven't changed.

"I think of the jocks' wives that push their guys around in wheelchairs now, it breaks my heart," Carmella says. "I know there are times where Richie thinks that his career has been filled with hard knocks. I don't feel that way, I really don't. We laugh sometimes; we were two kids who really had no license to get as far in the game as we did, especially Richie -- I mean, how many jockeys come from Brooklyn? We're still basically those two kids sitting out in the blanket room, that's what you call where they store the horse blankets, looking through the Racing Form, thinking, 'God, could we ever do this for a living? Imagine.'"

***

Migliore's horses have earned more than $160 million in purse money. His cut? Common practice is that a rider gets 10 percent of first-place finishes, 5 percent for seconds and thirds -- and his or her agent gets a quarter of whatever winnings the jockey brings in. Though the jockey is the one with his or her life on the line, the share is among the smallest. The owner also doles out 10 percent to the trainer, who then spreads some among the workers in the stable. The rest stays in the bank account of the owner. That's the game. Migliore knew this when he got started; all it meant was that he needed to keep winning.

According to Migliore, excelling in racing is as much about winning races as it is figuring out the psychology behind it all.

"What I always say about being a jockey," he said, "is that it's a lot like being an actor: The horses are the parts that we're auditioning for, and of course the Academy Award-winning parts are the horses who are going to win the big races, and just like with a great script, they probably have their choice of eight or 10 great actors. So, now it's what do you bring to the table that's going to push it in your direction? Same thing with horses. You know there are five or six other guys they can go to, how can you tip the scale in your favor? You're constantly having to sell yourself."

Through everything Migliore always has understood his role and what it means to everyone in the sport from the sheikh to the owners of claimers.

Jockey Richard Migliore
Migliore, 46, is rehabilitating after neck surgery in early May.

"In the big scope of what I do, maybe that [small-purse claim race] is small, but to somebody it's huge," he said. "Maybe it's the guy betting $2 on it, maybe it's the guy who bred the horse and he's having a hard time paying his bills at the farm, but if the mare he owns has a winner, now the yearling he's going to sell is going to get him out of the [financial] trouble he needs to pay for the next six months, or the groom who's there at 4:30 in the morning in the freezing cold getting him ready. So for me to say, 'Well, it's not that big of a deal,' there's a much bigger picture, a big trickle-down effect here, and it does mean something very big to somebody somewhere and it's incumbent on me to embrace that. I can't just take that for granted: 'Oh, it didn't impact me so big,' get in my car and go home. I have a responsibility to those people."

"This life," he continued, "forces you to sacrifice many family things. The game dictates when you're here, when you're there, and no matter what you miss things. It took me a long time, but I finally feel like I have a better handle on balancing."

Migliore missed his oldest son's high school graduation. After his daughter Gabrielle's dance recital, he would feel pangs of guilt for missing the last races of the day. When Carmella's cousin died in the Pan American Flight 103 bombing in 1988, he was off racing while the family was mourning.

But where horse racing has taken away, it has also provided. When he was the young dreamy-eyed kid working in Steve DiMauro's barns, he had eyes for the pretty dark-haired assistant trainer. She was older and had a boyfriend. But Carmella was the one person he could open up to, the person he could share his feelings with about racing.

Six years after meeting, the two were married.

***

Today, Richard Migliore has a beautiful wife and four healthy children. He has a house in the country across the street from a stable. He has a car with all of his "toys" and has seen the world. He has horse racing to thank for this. He also has two plates and 16 screws and no lateral pinch in his left arm. He can't feel the bottom of his feet and has to wear special boots to feel comfortable in the stirrups. And his knees aren't what they used to be.

Of his six or seven concussions, Migliore admits he's aware of the retired NFL players who have endured long-lasting effects from head injuries, including loss of memory, but he isn't yet concerned. In early March, however, Migliore admitted he had one episode that had him questioning: "Last night after leaving the track I had trouble finding Roosevelt Field Mall, I just had no clue of how to get there," Migliore said. "And I've been there dozens of times, but my mind was just blank. I had to put it in my GPS to figure it out."

Migliore didn't know whether to ascribe the episode to a long day of racing, combined with dehydration and hunger, or whether the concussions were having an effect. "If something like that were to happen again, I'd probably get checked out," he said.

And so he did. On May 4, Hecht operated on Migliore to repair the damage. The surgery is the first step. Migliore says he will reassess everything as his rehabilitation progresses. He says he is trying to keep the negativity out of his thoughts; it sounds easy, but it isn't. He came back once when he was 24. Now he is 46.

Migliore understands odds. He doesn't need the morning line to tell him how long they are for him now. "I have my tough moments. When I think about not breaking out of the gate and feeling the horse beneath me, I get all choked up," Migliore says. "But that's a conversation for another day."

***

On the afternoon of May 6, two days after the three-and-a-half-hour operation, Migliore is propped up in a bed in room 315 on the eighth floor of Mount Sinai Medical Center. His eyeglasses are on, and he's sipping at a cup of juice and eating a bran muffin from Starbucks. He's wearing a navy neck brace that causes him discomfort when he tries to swallow. There's an intravenous tube attached to the inside of his left forearm, sending fluids into his bloodstream. To his right, resting on the bed is a red tube that snakes behind where he is sitting. The tube is connected to the back of his neck, draining blood from where he had five vertebrae fused using a steel plate and more pins than he cared to know. The red tube is feeding to a clear bowl, which is the size of a saucer and is a third of the way full. He just woke up from an hour's nap, which had been induced by two Valium taken around noon.

His oldest brother, Nicholas, is standing at the foot of the bed, and Carmella is sitting at Richard's side.

"May I make a request?" asks Nicholas, a commanding officer with the highway patrol in Suffolk County, N.Y. "Will you please consider retiring?"

Migliore takes Carmella's hand but doesn't respond. No decisions have yet been made. The surgery was a success, but now the rehabilitation begins. His physical therapist told him people who have the type of surgery he endured lose 25 percent of their mobility. For your average mid-40s adult, that's manageable.

For a jockey, it's life-changing.

Chasen Marshall is a writer and photographer originally from Costa Mesa, Calif. He recently completed his master's at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He can be contacted at chasen.marshall@gmail.com.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Martin Garcia Named Jockey of the Week

With the win, the 25-year-old Garcia led all North American riders by purse earningswith $704,660 for the week ended May 19.

Trainer Bob Baffert tapped Garcia to ride Lookin At Lucky after the colt had three troubled trips under regular rider Garrett Gomez.

Garcia has worked as an exercise rider for Baffert and picked up a number of mounts for the Racing Hall of Fame trainer on the California circuit. Garcia finished 15th aboard Conveyance for Baffert in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1).

Riding Lookin At Lucky for the first time in competition in the Preakness. Garcia gave the colt a near-perfect ride. Lookin At Lucky swept into contention in the Preakness on the turn before accelerating to victory.

“I had a really great horse,” Garcia said. “I knew that today was a special day for me. I knew that I was riding Lookin At Lucky—the favorite in the Kentucky Derby [Presented by Yum! Brands (G1)]. I was really happy to come in with that horse today.”

Originally from Veracruz, Mexico, Garcia came to the U.S. in 2003 as a cook before changing career paths. Since becoming a competitive race rider in 2005, he has won 677 races, including 11 graded stakes, through Monday.
Thoroughbred Times TODAY

 

 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Castellano Wins Jockey Challenge

 Castellano rode the winners of the third and seventh races, earning 24 points and the $14,000 top prize. Desormeaux had one win, one second and one fourth and wound up with 22 points.

A 32-year-old native of Venezuela who was the regular rider for 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, Castellano finished second to Desormeaux in last year’s Challenge by a similar two-point margin, 22-20.

“It feels so great,” Castellano said. “I had a great year last year and got beat in the last race. I’m so excited to get it done today. For me, it worked out great. All my horses, they ran pretty good. They responded pretty well today.”

In special wagering on the four-race Challenge, Castellano paid $10 for the win, and the Castellano-Desormeaux exacta was worth $45.20.

Twelve points were awarded for finishing first among Challenge participants, six for second, four for third, and three for fourth in four designated races. John Velazquez picked up points in three races and was third with 15 points. Ramon Dominguez, who leads the country with 132 wins, captured the finale and was fourth with 12 points.


John Velazquez, Jeremy Rose, Rosie Napravnik, Julien Leparoux, Garret Gomez, Ramon Dominguez, Kent Desormeaux, Javier Castellano
Photo Credit: Jerry Dzierwinski/MJC

Rounding out the finishers were Julien Leparoux (11 points), Jeremy Rose (7), Garrett Gomez (6) and Rosie Napravnik (3).

Castellano, who will ride Aikenite, the Todd Pletcher-trained stablemate of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver in Saturday’s 135th Preakness, trailed only once in the competition. He ran second with Skeleton Crew in the third race behind My Bullet, but because jockey Joshua Navarro was not among the Challenge participants, Castellano earned 12 points for a Challenge win.

After picking up four points in the third race, Desormeaux captured the fifth race with Alwaysacontest to take a 16-12 lead over Castellano and Velazquez, who finished second in each of the first two races.

A victory in the seventh race aboard Squabble, 3 ¾ lengths ahead of Gomez and Thundering Rose in second, put Castellano in the lead for good. Though he finished sixth in the Challenge finale, Desormeaux needed to win and was second, 2 ¾ lengths behind Dominguez and Phosphorescent.

The Challenge brought together eight riders who have won nine Eclipse Awards, 10 Triple Crown races, 23 Breeders’ Cup races, as well as more than 23,000 races and $1 billion in purses overall. Five of the eight who competed ranked in the top 10 in the country this year in purse earnings.

The Maryland Jockey Club teamed with the Jockeys’ Guild for the event, making a $5,000 donation to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. The participants were featured on a souvenir poster that was handed out to the first 3,500 fans in attendance. Pimlico Communications Department

-MJC-

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gwen Jocson wins benefit race at Pimlico

Mary Wiley Wagner, who led to the top of the stretch in the six-furlong race aboard Mass Destruction before fading to fourth in the field of eight, said after dismounting, "Whew, that was fun! I want to do it again. And again. And again."

Gwen Jocson was the winning rider in the Legends, a $30,000 allowance that served to showcase eight women who helped break the barriers of what long has been perceived as a male-dominated profession. Jocson, riding Honor in Peace for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Wesley Ward, sat second early, took command after turning for home, then kept her mount to a steady drive to prevail by 2 3/4 lengths. Chapel of Love rallied late under Andrea Seefeldt Knight to be second, a neck before Rasher, with Mary Tortora Russ up.

Jocson, 43, retired in 1999 after 11 years of riding. The youngest of the Legend jockeys, Jocson now works as an exercise rider in Philadelphia for trainer John Servis of Smarty Jones fame.

Parimutuel wagering was accepted on the Legends, with Pimlico agreeing to match whatever was bet to win on the winning horse - which was $27,770 - as a contribution to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The race served as a vehicle to raise funds and awareness for Komen, the world's largest breast cancer organization. Honor in Peace returned $8.60 to win as the co-second choice after finishing in 1:11.46 over a fast main track.

The Legends race will be used as the final scene in the documentary film, "JOCK," which details the struggles of women jockeys such as Barbara Jo Rubin, who in 1969 at Charles Town became the first woman to win a race at a recognized North American track. Rubin, the oldest of the Legends jockeys at age 60, finished sixth aboard Brogue.

The Legends race, run as the fourth of 13, attracted a large and enthusiastic portion of a Preakness eve crowd that turned out on a sunny, muggy afternoon. Fans were lined up eight deep around the indoor paddock and frequently broke into cheers before and after the race in recognition of the women. The women were introduced individually to the Pimlico crowd in a brief ceremony before they convened in the paddock.

Most of the Legends jockeys have remained in the racing industry in various outside capacities, while others have not, including Jennifer Rowland Small, who works as a stockbroker, and Wagner, who works in real estate. Marty McGee/Daily Racing Form

Friday, May 14, 2010

Female greats back on stage

The Lady Legends for the Cure race is one that surely will grab the attention of racing fans. It is set as the fourth race Friday at Pimlico and is for retired women jockeys whose stories are being told in a documentary called "JOCK." The race serves as the conclusion to the film.

The participants include Barbara Jo Rubin, who broke the all-male barrier in 1969, when she became the first woman to win a race at a recognized racetrack, and Mary Russ Tortora, who as Mary Russ was the first woman to win a Grade 1 stakes.

Rubin is 60. Russ is 56. The other riders are Jennifer Rowland Small, 57; Cheryl White, 56; Patti Cooksey, 52; Mary Wiley Wagner, 46; Andrea Seefeldt Knight, 47; and Gwen Jocson, 43.

"Everybody said a race like this could never happen," said Jason Neff, the Los Angeles-based director and producer of JOCK.

Pimlico will take parimutuel wagering on the Legends, a $30,000, six-furlong allowance on the main track. Each rider has been randomly assigned a mount, and there are four also-eligibles in case any of the assigned mounts become injured or sick.

Rubin, a grandmother, has been trying to get fit for the race by galloping horses near her home at Fairmount Park in southern Illinois.

"I can't believe I'm doing this at 60," she said. "Each day I gallop I remember more, but it's amazing how my body just doesn't react the way it used to."

Besides being used in the documentary, the Legends also is a means to raise funds and awareness for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world's largest breast cancer organization. Two of the participating riders, Cooksey and Wagner, are breast cancer survivors.

Wagner underwent her last chemotherapy treatment for the disease in November.

"If one woman newly diagnosed with cancer can look at what I'm about to accomplish and feel positive about 'light at the end of treatment,' it's been worth every single moment I've devoted to this," she said.

For all its intrigue, the Legends race is missing some of the great female jockeys of all time, notably Julie Krone, a Hall of Fame member who is easily the winningest female jockey in wins and earnings. Krone is recovering at her California home from a broken leg suffered recently in a riding accident. Others missing from the Friday competition - but not the documentary - include Diane Crump, the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby (1970), and Robyn Smith, who was a cover girl for Sports Illustrated in the early 1970s, is the widow of Fred Astaire, and today is a Learjet pilot.

Producer Linda Ellman said "JOCK" was "both an action film and an empowerment story. This race and the film explore what happens when perseverance and passion collide."

Further information on the documentary is available at jockthemovie.com.

The Legends race is set for 1:45 p.m. Eastern. The race favorites probably deserve to be Rasher, with Russ riding for trainer Rick Dutrow, and Chapel of Love, with Seefeldt up for trainer Mike Trombetta.

* Besides the Legends event, Pimlico also will be hosting a jockey competition on its Preakness eve card on Friday. The Jockey Challenge, as it is billed, will take place on races 3, 5, 7, and 10, with a scoring system tracking the following competitors: Javier Castellano, Kent Desormeaux, Ramon Dominguez, Garrett Gomez, Julien Leparoux, Rosie Napravnik, Jeremy Rose, and John Velazquez.

Desormeaux, a Hall of Fame jockey who first made his mark in Maryland in the late 1980s, won the Jockey Challenge last year.  Marty McGee/Daily Racing Form

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

JOCKEYS’ GUILD OBJECTS TO TOM LUDT’S COMMENTS

 

 

       Ludt’s horse, Awesome Act, was the only horse in the race not participating in the sponsorship opportunity.  His trainer, Jeremy Noseda, told Terry Meyocks and John Velazquez, Chairman of the Jockeys’ Guild, on Derby day, that his owner gave instructions that sponsorship pants could only be worn if all the sponsorship money from all the horses in the race was going to be contributed to charity.  Since 19 other owners had reached acceptable agreements with their riders, this demand could not be met.

 

            Earlier, the jockey for Awesome Act had signed an agreement that provided the sponsorship money would be divided between the Thoroughbred Charities of America and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

 

            At the afternoon meeting, Ludt threatened Kentucky Derby jockeys and Guild National Manager Terry Meyocks with fines and an investigation.

 

            “We are disappointed by the attitude exhibited by Mr. Ludt at today’s Commission meeting,” said Tom Kennedy, General Counsel for the Jockeys’ Guild.  “Because of his stubbornness, it was only his horse that that didn’t participate in the Derby sponsorship opportunity.

 

            “The Guild and the Rules Committee of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission had a constructive dialog this morning including Churchill Downs and horsemen’s organizations prior to Mr. Ludt’s comments.  It is unfortunate that Mr. Ludt, instead of engaging in this kind of dialog, is calling for investigations and fines that are completely baseless.

 

            “It is unfair that individuals like Mr. Ludt can capitalize on their official position to push private interests they have as president of Vinery, a major breeding and racing operation, a board member of TOBA as well as a racing commissioner who is supposedly looking out for the best interests of racing.”

 

           

-30-

 

Contact: The Jockeys’ Guild

              (859) 305-0606

 



 

 

 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mountaineer horsemen, riders reach deal

Heriberto Rivera Jr., a regional manager for the Jockeys' Guild, said that the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association agreed to vote on the new scale for mount fees by May 27. The new scale will raise the minimum losing mount fee at the track to $65, up from $50.

"They trust the HBPA at their word," said Rivera, who assisted the Mountaineer riding colony in their efforts. "I think it's a good scale. It's pretty close to what everyone else is paying around the country for purses like that."

Officials of the horsemen's group did not return phone calls on Monday.

Regular riders at the track declined to be named to any mounts on the Friday or Saturday cards when the races were drawn earlier in the week. The Friday night card was cancelled early that morning, but racing was held on both Saturday and Sunday.

Many riding colonies at tracks across the U.S. have successfully pushed for higher mount fees over the past 12 months.  Matt Hegarty/Daily Racing Form

Friday, May 07, 2010

APPRENTICE LENCLUD BAGS THURSDAY TRIPLE

“In the morning, I was looking at the paper and it looked like I had a couple of shots,” said Lenclud, a 23-year-old native of Lamdrecis, France. “I told my agent (Doc Danner) that three or four was a good number and he was laughing.”

 When the day was done, Lenclud had three winners from seven mounts and became the first apprentice to win three races in a day at Churchill Downs since Julien Leparoux in the spring of 2006 when he won at least three races 11 times.

“To win three at Churchill Downs, that’s pretty good,” said Lenclud, who posted his first North American victory last July at Ellis Park. Lenclud rode 24 winners at the 2010 Oaklawn Park meeting, good for seventh in the rider standings, and rode five winners last month at Keeneland, good for a tie for ninth in a star-studded jockey colony.

“I’m not sure about the last time an apprentice rode three, but I am sure glad he did it yesterday,” said Danner, “because everybody was watching Churchill Downs.”

With a $947,641 Pick 6 carryover and a pool in the multiple-race wager that grew to $4,086,255, plenty of eyes were on Churchill Downs and two of Lenclud’s winners came in the Pick 6 sequence:  Dabossman ($10.40) in the sixth and Quiet by Seven ($5.80) in the seventh. The latter victory on the Matt Winn Turf Course was for trainer Michelle Nihei.

            “I like a lot of things about him,” Nihei said of Lenclud, whom she uses often. “He works hard. He shows up in the mornings and I feel very confident that he knows the horses.

            “He tries hard and he’s hungry. He works to get it done. He’s very patient and I think he’s got a little bit of ice in his veins and that’s important.”
Churchill Downs Communications Department
Friday, May 07, 2010

Mountaineer cancels card in jockey dispute

Most jockeys based at Mountaineer have refused to accept mounts since the Friday card was drawn on Tuesday. Jockeys and representatives of the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association have been locked in a stalemate over the mount fees during negotiations taking place over the last seven days.

Representatives of the track and horsemen did not immediately return phone calls on Friday.  Daily Racing Form

Friday, May 07, 2010

Ready for the next step

This time last year, Straight spent his mornings working horses during racetrack training hours. Now, three times a week, two hours per session, Straight works afternoons, trying to train his body to walk again.

Mike Straight went down in a one-horse spill in the last race of Arlington Park's Aug. 26 program. The fall looked benign enough. Straight rode 13-10 favorite Im No Gentleman in a lower-level claimer, cruising on the outside as the field came off the far turn in a six-furlong Polytrack race. The official chart of the race says only that Im No Gentleman "fell at the top of the stretch." Mike Straight, and others, believe Im No Gentleman clipped heels after horses to the inside were allowed to drift out into him.

The minute details of the accident might be difficult to ascertain: Its aftermath is not. Mike Straight suffered a brain injury. That turned out to be relatively minor. Straight also fractured his back, breaking four vertebrae known as T3 through T6. The crushed bone jammed into Straight's spine. Straight lost feeling in his legs, and has yet to walk.

That is the focal point of Mike Straight's work-life right now - walking. As hard as Straight worked to become a jockey, the same concentrated effort pours into whatever rehabilitation exercise Straight is asked to perform.

"Rehab is my space when I work out, my space of strain and determination, just trying to get this done," Straight said during a visit to Keeneland in late April.

Straight, now 24, began rehab at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago last fall, but the earliest phase of his rehabilitation was hampered by a nasty bedsore that developed at the base of his tailbone. To escape the Chicago cold, and to be nearer to family, Straight and his parents, Sandy and Beth, moved to Jacksonville, Fla., over the winter, and Mike took up rehab at a facility there. In late March, they picked up and moved again, this time settling in Lexington, where Mike began rehabbing at Cardinal Hill Hospital.

Cardinal Hill, Straight said, has asked more of him than either of his previous rehab experiences. And if Straight is asked, Straight will give. Cardinal Hill owns one of the country's few Lokomats, a robotic device that allows a person without use of his legs to simulate walking. On the Lokomat, Straight basically is attached in harness to a robot that walks a treadmill; human joins machine and strolls along. In another exercise, Straight is fitted with special braces and, holding onto parallel bars and with some human assistance, walks as best he can. In a Cardinal Hill pool, Straight does more simulated walking with aid from the water's buoyancy and staff members' hands.

"They do so much with me here, it's unbelievable," said Straight. "I don't know if it's because I was a jockey, and they know I was a jockey, or if it's because I show promise. But it makes me walk, and that's the only thing I want to do, really."

It was during a recent pool session that Straight's physical therapist encouraged him to try to lift his left knee.

"She was like, 'Oh my God, feel this. Feel right here, put your hand right here,' and the muscle right above my knee was just moving," Straight said. "It was the first time anything like that had happened."

One tiny step toward Straight's goal - but do not begrudge the young man any shred of optimism. Straight visits Keeneland whenever he can and insisted his parents take him in February to Gulfstream Park, where he had exercised horses before beginning his riding career at Tampa Bay Downs early in 2009. Straight still loves being among other riders, going out to the track. He constantly updates his Facebook page with news of daily life. At a jockey's function during the Keeneland meet, Robby Albarado dragged Straight up onto the stage to sing karaoke. Straight loved it. Mike Straight's enthusiasm and good nature feel totally unforced: Whatever was taken away from him last summer, he has made some kind of peace with his circumstances.

Straight rode at Arlington the day Rene Douglas got caught in a horrible accident earlier in the 2009 meet. Douglas also broke his back, suffered spinal trauma, and lost the use of his legs. Douglas has chosen to keep entirely to himself and his family since returning to Florida from Chicago last year. Little news has come on his well-being or progress.

"I don't understand why Rene's hiding behind brick walls," Straight said. "I could never picture myself not coming back to the track. I had to come back to the track."

There have been times, of course, and there will be times, when bitterness or sadness or anger wells up.

"Some days I want to blame it on all the jockeys that were in the race and came out. Some days I want to blame it on Polytrack. Some days I don't want to blame anything, and just live my life," he said.

Straight's face has grown thicker than it was last summer, and his voice sounds different. Changes wrought by his injury gain visible force when Straight sits next to his twin brother, Matt. Both Straights went through Chris McCarron's North American Racing Academy, Matt graduating the year before Mike, in 2008. Mike rode at Tampa for several weeks, then moved on to Arlington, where he won 23 races last summer. Matt was riding at Ellis Park when Mike got hurt, and he drove to Chicago straightaway, spending much of the next six weeks by Mike's side.

"It was a rough process," Matt Straight said. "We used to talk to each other on the phone 10 or 15 times a day. It was just strange not being able to talk to my brother. We'd been able to talk to each other every day for the first 22 years of our lives, and all of a sudden, he was just gone, you know."

Straight, hospitalized at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, a northwest Chicago suburb, remained in a coma for about five weeks after he fell. He had bleeding on the brain, and stabilizing surgery was performed to insert a rod and 15 screws that remain in his back to this day. The two dark days before his accident, Straight had been home in Greenbush, N.Y., visiting his family. He remembers being in New York those two days but has no memory of what happened the next five weeks - not traveling back to Chicago, not the day of the race, and certainly not the fall itself. More than a month later, Straight's head began clearing.

"The first thing I did was I turned to someone - I can't remember which parent it was, my mom or dad - and I said, 'How did I get here? What's going on?' I was wondering why I was even in the hospital. The first thing I tried to do was get out of bed, and I couldn't move my legs at all. It was totally weird. My parents said I fell off a horse at Arlington, and so much stuff was going through my head, thinking about what could've happened," Straight said.

Some riders prefer not to watch a spill that has sent them sprawling. But Straight wanted the visual information as soon as possible.

"I had to watch it as soon as I could," he said. "I wanted to know what happened to me. I just typed in 'Arlington, Aug. 26,' and I sat there and watched the replay. My original thought was, 'That's it? And I'm like this?'"

"I watched the race many times," said Chris McCarron, who flew in to visit Straight days after his accident. "There's no rhyme or reason for trying to figure out how serious something is by looking at a race. If you watch a replay of an accident, you can't really tell by looking at it. I've seen some horrific accidents where the jocks get up and ride later in the day. It just depends on the way the rider falls on the track, where the impact occurs."

Straight and everyone else attending McCarron's riding school receive a danger briefing before they even begin their riding studies.

"First of all, when we interview them, we ask them if they understand how dangerous this is," McCarron said. "If they haven't done any research into the risk and reward ratio, I inform them right there. We go through that in the orientation. We are constantly reminding that it's not a question of if but when they will go down."

McCarron's academy has nine Equicizers on which students can simulate riding. Affixed to them is a quotation from Mark Twain: "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear."

Fear of falling - it flits through a young rider's head but stays quietly lodged in the mind of those close to him.

"It was always in the back of our minds," said Sandy Straight, Mike's father. "We knew how dangerous it was. We never thought this, though. You never think the worst. They went down before, riding in the mornings. It was funny; I started getting used to it. Matt had ridden quite a few races, you know. You never think it's going to be a catastrophic injury like that. Mike knew the risk he was taking, but you can't be thinking of that."

Sandy and Beth Straight worked for the New York state government in Albany. They owned bits of a racehorse here and there, but somehow, twin sons got hooked on the game.

"We brought them to Saratoga early on," Sandy Straight said. "They belonged to some fan clubs online, they joined this program called Kids to the Cup. We went to the Breeders' Cup. They just started hanging around at Saratoga, meeting the jockeys' kids and the jockeys. Mike Smith, Jose Santos. It just started snowballing, and at the age of 13, we went and bought them an Equicizer. They sat constantly watching OTB and riding it. Before that they rode pillows tied together on the couch. They used to dress up like jockeys, weigh each other. It all just evolved."

While Mike Straight labors to walk again, Matt Straight still rides, though not as many races as he would like. Coming back after Mike got hurt has not been easy. McCarron said the brothers "were almost joined at the hip, they were so close," and after Mike fell, Matt found it difficult to leave Mike behind for the track.

"Actually, I had to give him the okay to go back to riding," Mike said.

Matt Straight has won 76 races from 721 mounts in his career, but in 2010, he has ridden two winners from 52 starters while kicking around all manner of venues. This year, he has ridden at Beulah Park, Turfway Park, Indiana Downs, Tampa Bay Downs, Keeneland, and Churchill.

"I think sometimes I've handled it all worse than Mike has," Matt said. "It's hard for me because it's my work and my line of duty as well to come out here and do this every day. It's hard. You know, I'm going to the gate, and the pony boy's like, 'How's your brother? How's your brother? How's your brother?' That's the last thing I want to do before I get into the gate, to talk about how Mike fell. I've had a couple of assistant starters ask me in the gate, 'How's your brother?' I don't want to think about that right then."

The elder Straights have been on sick leave with half pay since they left New York to fly to Mike's side in Chicago the night of his spill. The family house in Greenbush recently was sold, and the Straights plan to make Lexington their home now. A new life. One son still goes off to ride horses. The other chases the dream of getting to his feet.

"Mike ain't never going to quit. He's not like that," Sandy Straight said. "He'll walk again. There's no doubt about that in my mind."

In Mike Straight's mind, there are thoughts about his body best left alone most of the time.

"If anything I'll think about it right before bed, if the lights are off, and no one's around. And then I might think about it for a second or so, but I learned not to really mess with it at all. Everything happened for a reason, I'm like this for a reason, and it's time to go on to tomorrow. The way I fell, and the way things were at the beginning, I feel blessed just to be here, blessed to be out at Keeneland right now.

"I'm at a racetrack," he said, "where I would've been today if I was fine."
Marcus Hersh/Daily Racing Form

Friday, May 07, 2010

Mountaineer impasse with jockeys lingers

Representatives of riders and the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association met on Tuesday night for the third time in the last five days, but were unable to come to an agreement after an abbreviated discussion, according to Maria Catignani, the executive director of the horsemen's group, and Terry Meyocks, the president of the Jockeys' Guild, which is helping the riders push for the increase.

On Tuesday, only two riders accepted mounts for the Friday card. After the Saturday card was drawn on Wednesday, however, riders were named on the majority of mounts, although some riders had been named on more than one horse in a race. Many of the riders named on the Saturday card are not regular riders at Mountaineer.

Catignani said that she was "confident" that the track would be able to run on Friday and Saturday if the stalemate continued by utilizing riders who were not willing to hold out over the impasse on the mount-fee discussions.

The standard losing mount fee at Mountaineer Park is $50, though the fee can rise to as high as $105 in races with purses of $80,000 or more. At West Virginia's other Thoroughbred track, Charles Town, the scale begins at $75, rising to as much as $105 in races with purses of $100,000 or more.

Many jockey colonies have successfully pushed for higher mount fees over the past year, usually with the help of the Jockeys' Guild.  Daily Racing Form

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Calvin Borel Named Jockey of the Week

Borel, nicknamed “Bo-rail” for positioning his mounts next to the fence, earned $1,821,238 during the period, of which $1,425,000 came from his victory in the first leg of the Triple Crown.

The 43-year-old Louisville resident, who also is the regular rider for Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, won the 2007 Kentucky Derby aboard Street Sense and the ’09 edition aboard longshot Mine That Bird.

Through Tuesday, Borel ranked third nationally among jockeys by earnings with $4,056,761, behind Rafael Bejarano and Ramon Dominguez.
Thoroughbred Times TODAY

 

 

Monday, May 03, 2010

Kentucky's Thoroughbrd Industry and Workers' Compensation: "Out of the Money."

In 2005-06, the Lexington Herald-Leader published “Wrong Side of the Track,” an award-winning, in-depth series of reports investigating compensation for injured track workers. The series focused on jockeys but also on the people who work on the “backside” or “backstretch,” who are “some of the least-protected in the state and some of the poorest in the billion-dollar horse business.” The series brought statewide attention to the deficiencies and prompted attempts to address the inequalities in what the paper dubbed “a bawdy fiefdom of manure and money, ruled by trainers who decide who gets benefits … and who doesn’t.”

At the time, Kentucky’s jockeys and track workers did not benefit from workers’ compensation coverage. Now, nearly five years later, they still don’t.

But other horse-industry states like Maryland, New York, New Jersey, California and Colorado do not follow Kentucky’s lead, choosing to provide workers’ compensation coverage to jockeys and/or their backstretch counterparts.

In 1985, for instance, the Maryland legislature created the Maryland Jockey Injury Compensation Fund Inc., regarded as the first workers’ compensation program for jockeys in the United States. Per §11-903 of the Business Regulation Article, “The Jockey Fund shall get workers’ compensation insurance on a blanket basis for all jockeys who are covered employees under §9-212 of the Labor and Employment Article.”

In 1991, the New York legislature established the state’s Jockey Injury Compensation Fund, which would serve as the as the employer of all jockeys, apprentice jockeys and licensed exercise riders. Specifically, under New York’s Jockey Fund,

A jockey, apprentice jockey, or exercise person performing services for an owner or trainer in connection with the training or racing of a thoroughbred horse at a facility of a racing association or corporation subject to article two or four of the racing, pari-mutuel wagering and breeding law and subject to the jurisdiction of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, is regarded as the “employee” of The New York Jockey Injury Compensation Fund, Inc. Such individual is also considered the employee of all owners and trainers who are licensed or required to be licensed under article two or four of the racing, pari-mutuel wagering and breeding law at the time of any occurrence for which workers’ compensation benefits are payable for such jockey, apprentice jockey or exercise person.

The New York fund is financed by fees paid by owners and trainers based on a variety of factors set forth in N.Y. PML. LAW 221.

In 1995, New Jersey enacted the New Jersey Horse Racing Injury Compensation Board Act as set forth at  N.J. Stat. Ann. § 34:15-129. .

That state declared it “in the public interest to ensure that workers’ compensation coverage is available to persons employed in the thoroughbred and standardbred horse racing industries in New Jersey by collectively securing workers’ compensation insurance coverage for certain designated horse racing industry employees …” N.J. Stat. Ann. §34:15-130 The coverage is funded by assessment such as deductions from gross overnight purses paid to owners and “additional assessments as needed from standardbred owners, thoroughbred owners and thoroughbred trainers who are licensed or are required to be licensed by the commission. N.J. Stat. Ann. §34:15-134

California case law has long acknowledged jockeys as employees, and a variety of legislation has been passed to address costs and funding associated with the injuries. One example is the 2002 establishment of a horse racing workers’ compensation program called the California Horsemen’s Safety Alliance (CHSA), which, as noted on its Web site, was created “to deal with the Workers Compensation crisis that was facing the thoroughbred industry. Skyrocketing rates were causing trainers to leave the State and owners to leave the industry. California racing was in danger of becoming a shell ofits former self or an extinct industry.”Colorado extends coverage as well, but under 8-40-301 (8), C.R.S., excludes from the definition of employee “any person who performs services for more than one employer at a race meet … or at a horse track.” The law there appears to provide coverage to all track workers and jockeys provided their employment relationship is limited to a single employer. In other words, the law would not cover employees who “job hop” from employer to employer during a race meet or at a particular track.

In 2005, efforts were made by the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (VHBPA) and Colonial Downs to convince Virginia’s legislature to adopt a jockey workers’ compensation system similar to Maryland’s.  A formal proposal was drafted, but according to Frank Petramalo, Executive Director of the VHBPA the proposal never made it past the discussion stage with state officials. Legislation was never proposed.

Some attention to the plight has also been given at the federal level, but with no legislative or regulatory action being taken. In May 2006, federal hearings of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations focused on the failure of the catastrophic injury insurance fund maintained by the Jockey Guild, a national association of licensed professional jockeys. Mismanagement of funds by the guild’s president resulted in failure of the fund and were brought to light when a guild member, jockey Gary Birzer, was paralyzed in a July 2004 accident and later discovered the Jockey Guild insurance funds were non-existent. No particular action was taken other than to bring the Jockey Guild to account and to force reorganization of its ranks.

But it seems ironic that the Bluegrass State has not followed the lead of Maryland, New York or the others states or, more particularly, why as a leading horse state, didn’t it lead the way in the first place?

Kentucky law traditionally views jockeys and track workers as independent contractors; therefore, trainers and others who hire them are not required to maintain workers compensation insurance. The Kentucky Supreme Court case of Ratliff v. Redmon, 396 S.W.2d 320 (Ky.App. 1965), established the factors required for determining whether an individual should be regarded as an employee or an independent contractor. The 1980 Kentucky Court of Appeals case of Munday v. Churchill Downs, Inc., 600 S.W.2d 487 (Ky.App. 1980), established the precedent for application of the independent contractor classification to jockeys and track workers based on the Ratliff factors.

While some trainers may carry workers’ compensation insurance, they are in the minority. Numbers accumulated by the Herald-Leader’s series revealed that four Kentucky racing facilities reported 260 injuries from January 1999 to March 2004 — averaging to about one injury a week.

In 2006, in response to the Herald-Leader’s investigation, Kentucky’s then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher and the state’s legislature attempted through House Bill 741 to address the dismal coverage offered to jockeys and backside workers by creating a state fund that would provide coverage for work injuries. The effort passed the House but died in the state’s Senate.

As some small consolation, due in part to a walkout staged by jockeys, Kentucky thoroughbred racetracks eventually increased accident insurance coverage for jockeys — but not exercise riders — from $100,000 to $1 million. Other states followed suit, but Kentucky has failed to revisit the issue in any other way.

So, as the sun shines bright on Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, the Kentucky Derby will be the first out of the gate to launch the Triple Crown, but as for compensating injured jockeys and track workers it’s, as they say down at the track, out of the money.

This article appeared as the featured article of LexisNexis’ Workers’ Compensation eNewsletter Vol 1. Issue 5 and at the LexisNexis blog:  Workers’ Compensation Law Community Powered by Larson’s.

 

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