When jockey Javier Castellano fell to the track after the ninth race at Aqueduct on Wednesday, I thought to myself that bad things happen in threes. Castellano’s fall came on the heels of recent spills involving Hall of Fame riders Calvin Borel and John Velazquez.
Borel suffered a broken fibula in a spill at Keeneland on Oct. 24. The three-time Kentucky Derby-winning rider is hoping to return opening day at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 10.
Velazquez was hurt on Nov. 2, Breeders’ Cup day at Santa Anita. His mount, Secret Compass, suffered a life-ending breakdown in the Juvenile Fillies. Doctors removed Velazquez’s spleen after they discovered he was bleeding internally. He will be sidelined for the rest of this year.
Castellano got off relatively easy. He took off his mounts Thursday due to body soreness. He is expected to ride today at Aqueduct.
Few will debate the fact that riding racehorses for a living is the most dangerous job in sports. We’re reminded of that daily when in every race run in the U.S., an ambulance will follow the field of horses.
The California Horse Racing Board conducted a jockey injury study using data involving its member tracks from 2007 to 2011. Jockey falls in thoroughbred races occurred at a rate of 1.99 per 1,000 rides.
The study showed, on average, that a jockey will be expected to fall once every 502 mounts. How risky is that? Imagine riding in a car at 40 mph when the driver abruptly tells you to jump out the window. Good luck with that tumble.
These are daily reminders that a jockey’s career, and his health and well-being, can change forever in a fraction of a second. And even if you ride the top horses, and not just a bunch of $5,000 claimers, no one is immune from danger.
Ramon Dominguez won the Eclipse Award for champion jockey in 2010, 2011 and 2012. He announced his retirement in June, at the age of 36, due to injuries suffered in a spill at Aqueduct on Jan. 18.
Among his injuries was a fractured skull, leading his doctors to advise him to retire. Their fear was another fall could have dire consequences.
Dominguez in some ways is lucky. He was able to walk away from the sport he loves. When I had the chance to deal with jockeys on a daily basis, a few told me they feared paralysis more than death.
There is an organization that assists injured jockeys called the Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund. Its website is www.pdjf.org.
At this time of year, so many worthy charities are reaching out for contributions. Maybe if your favorite jockey, be it Rafael Bejarano, Rosie Napravnik, Joel Rosario, whoever, wins the daily double for you, think about donating a small part of your winnings to the PDJF. These athletes lay it on the line every day for our enjoyment.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.