Chilling Spills - By Dan Liebman

The top three headlines in the news section of the morning of Oct. 19:

  • Kaenel Retires From Race Riding
  • Jockey Escobar Out 4-6 Weeks
  • Albarado Off Oct. 18 Mounts at Keeneland

Sadly, word was then received that at Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Okla., rider Mark Pace was killed Oct. 18 when he was thrown from his mount, Reep What You Sow, after she hit the rail.

Mark Pace was 58 years old and had just arrived at the racetrack from a farm in Texas. He picked up the mount on the maiden claimer after jockey Mike Bishop was injured the day before and took off his mounts. It was only Pace’s second mount in 2009. He was said to have previously ridden more than 10 years ago, but Equibase shows no wins at recognized tracks for Pace.

By contrast, Kyle Kaenel is only 21 but has been banged up enough already to call it quits. His riding career lasted five years.

Kaenel, son of former rider Cowboy Jack Kaenel—who was the youngest jockey to win a Triple Crown race when he guided Aloma’s Ruler home in the 1982 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at the age of 16—was injured in a spill Sept. 27 at Fairplex Park. Kaenel’s mount, maiden claimer Sheval Dom Sallay, clipped heels, tossing him to the dirt. He suffered a broken collarbone, shoulder blade, acromion (a bone at the top of the shoulder blade), and pinched a nerve in his back. In previous riding accidents he had broken his back and neck.

Having begun riding in the fall of 2004 at age 16, Kaenel had booted home 608 winners from 4,345 mounts; this year he had 47 winners, three in stakes races.

Martin Escobar, 41, has numbers very similar to Kaenel’s. He began riding in 2001 and has 687 winners to his credit from 6,420 mounts. This year he has visited the winner’s circle 55 times from 469 mounts, with eight wins from 93 mounts at the current Remington meeting.

Escobar had finished second in the last race at Remington Park Oct. 17 when his mount, Cuvee Blanc, fell just past the wire, unseating the rider. The jockey walked away under his own power but was later found to have a fractured hand and back and will be sidelined four to six weeks.

Then there is Robby Albarado, who is one of the top riders in North America; the man who guided Curlin to his two Horse of the Year campaigns.

Albarado, 36, has been aboard 4,067 winners from 24,668 mounts and is having an excellent 2009, with 166 victories from 929 races and three grade I wins. In the sixth race at Keeneland, Oct. 17, an allowance event on the turf, Albarado’s mount, My Baby Baby, stumbled at the start. In regaining her footing, My Baby Baby’s head came back and hit Albarado in the head, cutting the jockey near his right eye. He took off his mounts Oct. 18 but was expected to return to riding Oct. 21.

It is hard enough for a jockey to maintain weight by sitting in a sweat box or purging what he or she eats. But there is much more to it than that. Jockeys compete in a sport that is not only demanding physically and mentally, but full of peril at every turn. The Jockeys’ Guild reports that 150 jockeys have been killed in riding accidents since 1940.

Of course, accidents don’t just happen in the afternoons or evenings. The same dangers exist for jockeys and exercise riders who guide horses in their daily morning gallops and breezes.

Padded helmets, protective vests, safety rails, synethetic surfaces—all have been designed to help protect those who ride Thoroughbreds. But this week’s headlines are yet another reminder of how dangerous it is to be an athlete who rides Thoroughbred horses for a living.

The best thing you can wish a jockey as he or she is being legged up is simple: Have a safe trip.


Leave a Comment:


It is amazing that when most people think of athletes, very few of them consider jockey's.  I grew up around the track and am now married to an ex-rider.  Let me tell you the riders, be them exercise riders or jockeys, are probably some of the most athletic people I have ever come across.  Not only do they have to control an animal that is bred to go fast, they have to do it while keeping their weight down and their minds clear.  Most people don't realize that horse racing is the only sport that an ambulance follows the field around.  All sports are dangerous but those invloved wouldn't be there if they didnt enjoy what they are doing. As you say give the riders a leg up and wish them a safe trip!  

20 Oct 2009 1:58 PM

Thank you for remembering the jockeys.  It seems most people only recall horses that were hurt or died on the track while the jockeys are too often forgotten.  I'm not saying it's wrong to remember the horses but the jockeys at the very least deserve an occasional mention, too.    

20 Oct 2009 3:12 PM
Alan Foreman

The jockeys do not need sympathetic commentary.  The courageous stand for those who have the power of the media, particularly our industry media, is to advocate for workers compensation for the riders.  To me, it is an industry "black-eye" that only five States provide such coverage--Maryland, New York, New Jersey, California and Idaho (Delaware provides similar benefits).  I am proud to have been involved in making it happen.  Do we need a human Eight Belles situation to get it done elsewhere?

20 Oct 2009 4:09 PM

To Alan Foreman -- and all,

You hit the nail on the head,we have just touched on this topic the past few days citing the 5 states that provide insurance for catastrophic injury.  Example: sadly Rene Douglas gets nothing, he was riding in the wrong state. It's a HUGE black eye that needs to be addressed asap if not sooner. Thanks for your work making what we have so far happen, we're proud of you too.


20 Oct 2009 9:49 PM

You have to wonder what the stats are in the mornings....sometimes 200 horses on the track, unless they bolt - everything backs up the wrong way, crazies and cripples who have to get out, horses breaking from the gate hitting the track at the 7/8 pole at a dead run and to put it bluntly,  not everyone who gallops, rides like Jorge Velesquez (one of my personal favorites).  You better be tied on in the mornings.

20 Oct 2009 11:36 PM

We must remember the jockeys who risk their lives each day. We also need to remember the many, many horses who breakdown and die for our entertainment. They seem to be always the forgotten ones. The racetrack should be safe for jockey and horse.

21 Oct 2009 12:45 AM

My sweetheart is a former jockey, now an excerise rider at age 58.  He is the most fit person I've ever known. Both of his legs have been broken twice, as well as his left shoulder.  His right leg is an inch shorter than his left due to the rod that holds his leg together.  Yet, he bravely heads to the track each morning to do what he loves to do. I say a prayer every morning for him and all of the others on the backside.

21 Oct 2009 10:15 AM

Let us please note that any jockey that wants to be insured can pay for his own disability insurance, as many of them do.  Additionally, any permanent injury is compensated for by Social Security disability.  That Jocks get nothing when injured is a myth.  A significant number of riders get a disability check every month.  It is a dangerous sport, and yet these jocks have as their jobs what is probably the second or third most enjoyable things that one could possibly do.  Any injured rider has my maximum sympathy.  Yet, I do believe attempts by the Guild to foist the costs of riding on everyone else should be resisted.

21 Oct 2009 1:48 PM
Baze fan

You can say what you want about the money-won title (somebody wins that every year, no matter how many careers end while attempting to win it), but for Russell Baze to have started riding in 1974 and to have avoided life-altering injury for 35 years of doing just that, adds worlds of credibility to his astronomical win total.

Indeed there have been some great riders who have at times given Baze a good run in terms of number of winners annually (Rudy Baez comes to mind) but it takes a rare combination of the smile of fate and the drive of Russell Baze to reach 10,690 winners.

There is but a single North American rider who is within 1000 winners of Russell Baze since January 1, 2000, (and just 17 riders within 2000 of him) yet Russell Baze still doesn't get enough credit for having dodged the cruel hand of fate for 35 years.

Baze will finish the decade just shy of 4000 wins in the 10-year span.  There isn't another active rider who would catch Baze in ten more years at that clip, even if Baze retired tomorrow.

So it isn't just his win total that impresses, it is how good, and familiar with both his circuit and his fellow riders, Russell Baze has had to be in order to amass those numbers while avoiding life-altering injury.

We probably owe all jockeys more credit than we give them.

21 Oct 2009 3:51 PM

I am just a fan, but I know that without those brave and crazy soles that ride those horses every morning and afternoon, I wouldn't have a sport to love and enjoy. I feel they should get the same respect and  benifits every other pro athelete gets including being taken care of if he or she becomes injured on the job. From what I hear and read many do not and that is a shame. When I read of baseball players not playing for weeks because of a minor injury I thank god they don't ride racehorses.I am not sure who's responsiblity it is to correct this injustice, but someone better step up and do the right thing if not for the riders, then for racing itself.

21 Oct 2009 5:46 PM

I agree that jockeys don't need pity, they need applause & support for their courageousness.

Many In racing fight broad workers' compensation and insurnace coverage because they say that jockeys are "independent contractors." However, the jockey has no control over trainers who send sore horses to the track, or no control over track vets who "clear" unsound horses to enter the starting gate. Jockeys show up & do their jobs, but they are the first to be blamed when a horse loses & the first to be forgotten by racing when an accident occurs.

SADLY, animal rights activists make more of an impact on racing by shouting about equine safety, but who shouts for the jockeys?

22 Oct 2009 10:02 AM

To fb0252;

have YOU ever tried living on Social Security?   There's a reason that you hear stories about retirees living on SS eating CAT FOOD!  I work in the Insurance Industry and most Disability policies only cover MAYBE 66% of your income (which must be backed up by Tax returns).   So, don't say that these athletes have a way to survive once they are PERMANENTLY INJURED.   Insurance and Disability do not help when, if you SURVIVE a catastrophic injury you then have to learn new skills often in a wheelchair!  And lets not forget some of these riders have families to support.  So as an Insurance professional I find it abhorent that there is not safety net for these athletes.   No on sign them to a Multi year Mega Million dollar contract like the "athletes" who chas a little ball around a field!   The oners and breeders make more than enought money to fund Insurance for the ones who are RESPONSIBLE FOR GETTING THE HORSES TO THE WINNERS CIRCLE.    The time is NOW to step up and DO something about it!

22 Oct 2009 10:35 AM

A jockey riding on the balls of his feet up to speeds of 40 mph! Liken that to sitting on the hood of a car while some drives 40 mph. Scary!

I cannot give enough praise to the jockey's for "putting their lives on the line". And, let's not forget the exercise riders. They fall off, dust themselves off and get back on. I couldn't do this!

Thank you to ALL jockeys and exercise riders. God bless all of you and keep you safe.

22 Oct 2009 12:47 PM

fb0252, if you get injured on the job, you collect workers comp, if you become disabled you get workers comp and disability...why shouldn't they?

When I was young my race hero was a family friend, Henry Wadja...he was the jockey who saved Tony Despirito in what's considered one of the most heroic rescues in racing...sadly he later was killed in a race.

So dan I thank you very much for remembering these guys...can't even imagine any blogger dissing this subject...

22 Oct 2009 5:07 PM
Mary in VT

I watched a program about the built in inflatable air bags in the suits of motorcycle racers. How come they don't have something like that for jockeys? Maybe the same company that delivered safety wear to motorcycle racers could whip something up for jockeys to protect their spine, and limbs.

22 Oct 2009 11:16 PM
paul harte

us riders are a differnt breed,hints the expression a neck like a jockeys bollox.

23 Oct 2009 4:28 PM

naturally, everybody twists my comments. let's presume that sentiment gets in the way of logic.

what I posted, and I do ride btw, just recently fell and fractured a vertebrae, is the reality that any jock that wants to be protected can buy their own insurance.  Most of these riders are among the highest earners in our sport.  What logical reason is there that their medical and disability protection should be paid by anybody else besides themselves?

23 Oct 2009 7:16 PM
been there

for every jockey who makes a great living there are 50 who just manage to survive. jock mount is based on the size of purses. for a losing jock mount (depending on size of purse) can be anywhere from 30 dollars to 100 dollars. there isnt another athelete who riskes thier lives for so little. plus the jockey has to pay his agent--valet-- and put food on the table with that 30 bucks. GREAT pay isnt it! yet there are those owners and trainers who think they are paid to much. they have never sat in a sweatbox to lose weight or purged to try and maintain thier weight. as 1 very well know trainer once said if 1 wont do i can find someone who will(D.Wayne Lucas). wish he had to try and live on what so many riders take home!

24 Oct 2009 4:00 PM
Judie W

To fbo252

How many jockeys do you know that can afford disability policies? Only a few elite riders don't need the same protection that is offered to most employees! And please don't hide behind the "independent contractor" theme. Every owner/trainer should be mandated to provide workmans comp to all employees, and there should be an industry supported fund for jockeys who sustain crippling injuries. To compare jockeys to other professional athletes who have strong unions and contracts is ludicrous.  

24 Oct 2009 10:35 PM

One of the reasons why I never went for an exercise riders license when I was living in NY. Whipping a horse to make it go as fast as it can, is a recipe for disaster. As much as I love the exhiliration of being on top of a thoroughbred running 35mph plus,  I couldn't help but wonder what I would do if I got seriously hurt or paralyzed-- Would I be able to go on with my life if something like that ever happened, probably not.

25 Oct 2009 10:34 AM

thank you TripleCrownKaren for that rebuttal. You are absolutely correct.

25 Oct 2009 4:24 PM


Henry Wajda was a great rider and a class individual. h

He was injured on July 28, 1973 and died the next day.Thanks for mentioning him.

25 Oct 2009 8:42 PM

The same week that Mark Pace tragically died, a young French jockey, Guillaume Javoy, was also killed in a fall at Le Pin-au-Haras.

From Racing Post:

"The French racing community was in shock on Monday following the news that highly promising jump jockey Guillaume Javoy had died after a horrific fall at Le Pin-au-Haras on Sunday.

The 24-year-old had replaced another jockey on chance ride Kahyasia in the opening race of the meeting at the Normandy track, near the town of Argentan.

Another horse tried to run out Just before a hurdle about five furlongs into the race, forcing Kahyasia to put on the brakes in a violent manner.

After being thrown on to the running rail, Javoy was taken by helicopter to a hospital at Alencon after the racecourse medical team realised the serious nature of his injuries. He was then transferred to a hospital in Caen.

Javoy, who is attached to the powerful Francois Cottin stable, had 16 winners to his name this season.

"Guillaume was a very pleasant young man and a true professional," said Cottin. "He had been with me since the beginning of his career, which was far too short.I am devastated."

And just yesterday 19 year old Campbell Gillies was injured in an horrific incident at Aintree Racecourse which left him with a punctured lung, bruising to his liver and kidneys, broken ribs and several cracked vertebra

Jockey - the only job where an ambulance follows you around as you do your work.

26 Oct 2009 8:15 AM

wista, he grew up with my parents...I was a flower girl at his me, a little girl who had paper horses to play with instead of paper dolls (I traced them out of my books) he was my race horse hero.

I'm always happy to remember him to others. ;-)

27 Oct 2009 12:08 PM

Your last comment says it all if you're an owner or trainer.  The few times Tom and I have been blessed to be at the races with a horse we had a small piece of ownership in, I didn't ask the jockey to win or set a record - my comment was "just come back safely".  Something for all owners and trainers to remember!

28 Oct 2009 11:43 AM
Megan Gammon

Thank You for your story on the jockeys getting hurt and what is happening in our world, I have rode 12 years. Under Megan Ludlow yesterday was my three yr anniv..being married and we are a trainer jockey team we train off the farm mostly and I was Leading Rider this summer my 2nd time in KS..and I was so happy to see what you wrote and I ride all over from Churchill to Chicago all over the country with the Big time and the small but we all are brave souls to risk our lives to win and I am currently at home sick been out 10 days and it is hard but reading what you wrote gave me some peace knowing you as a writter can relate to jocks like us. I am working on my own book right now and it is amazing and exiting how it will come out  it is called Miracle On A Horse..Thanks Again-Megan Gammon

04 Nov 2009 9:03 AM

Pound for pound, jockeys are the strongest athletes.  Not to mention they are "all heart".  They Do Not get enough credit for what they do.  Every start could be the end.  Have a safe trip to all of the riders out there.

22 Nov 2009 11:03 AM

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