Keeneland mandates jockey medical information
As John Velazquez lay unconscious after being thrown from his
horse during a 2008 race, Keeneland’s doctors wanted to administer
a pain medicine.
A few key strokes on a laptop computer alerted them they
couldn’t. Velazquez was severely allergic to the drug.
Now Keeneland is taking steps to ensure all jockeys get the same
kind of treatment.
Track officials are mandating all jockeys provide medical
information for Keeneland’s internal computer database. The system
gives doctors instant access to critical details such as allergies,
blood type, and past injuries.
Velazquez, who was racing Wednesday at Aqueduct in New York,
says he enthusiastically supports the new requirement as do most
jockeys he knows.
“If you have an accident and pass out, you could die,”
Velazquez said. “That’s one step forward to try to minimize
The Jockey Health Information System is being widely used since
its rollout in 2008, shortly before Velazquez’s second serious
spill in about two years. Jockey Club spokesman John Cooney said 44
tracks and the National Steeplechase Association are using the
system, and while most jockeys fill out the forms voluntarily,
Keeneland is the first to mandate it.
If Velazquez’s injury helped prove the merits of the program,
another even more potentially serious accident at Keeneland last
fall accelerated the requirement.
Jockey Julia Brimo, a rider visiting from Canada whose medical
information wasn’t available to the Keeneland doctors, was thrown
when her mount clipped heels and fell, knocking her to the ground.
She was put in a neck brace and under no condition to talk, even as
doctors tried to get critical information from her.
Keeneland track physician Barry Schumer said Brimo’s condition
improved even without the background information, but her injury
underscored the risks of not having it.
“It pointed out that if we’re going to go to the trouble of
gathering this information, we probably need to have it on anybody
who is on the back of a horse riding a race in the afternoon,”
Even last year, it was rare for a jockey to ride in a race at
Keeneland without handing over medical information. Schumer
estimated there has been a 95 percent compliance rate in previous
meets and said no jockey resisted this spring when the policy was
Other tracks could soon follow, including Arlington Park in
Illinois, which is preparing to implement the mandatory policy for
its meet starting next month.
“Safety of jockeys is extremely important to everybody in
racing, and you want to save any time you can,” said David Zenner,
spokesman for Arlington Park. “If a rider gets hurt, you want to
have that information at your fingertips.”
Velazquez, a longtime advocate for jockey safety improvements,
said he would like to see the information shared among all the
participating tracks in a sort of national database. Even if
jockeys remain conscious after an accident, they might be in no
position to talk, and many don’t speak English.
Other jockeys agree tracks must err on the side of safety.
“It’s a situation where if it’s a life-threatening emergency,
the more information they have, the better they can serve us,”
jockey Kent Desormeaux said.
The information is stored on a laptop computer next to the
critical care bed in the track’s first-aid room. Only medical
professionals with an ID and password have access, and if a trip to
University of Kentucky hospital is needed, it is faxed or sent
there electronically ahead of the jockey’s arrival.
With the racing industry focused on safety enhancements,
particularly since the fatal breakdown of Eight Belles at the 2008
Kentucky Derby, improvements for jockeys have been a major part of
that. Newly designed helmets, vests and whips are quickly becoming
Keeneland has made numerous safety changes, most notably
switching its surface from dirt to synthetic, and last year was the
first track certified by the National Thoroughbred Racing
Association’s Safety & Integrity Alliance.
Track president Nick Nicholson said the move to mandating
medical information has been smooth, with strong support from the
Jockey’s Guild and most regular riders.
“So often we beat ourselves up that we’re incapable of
cooperating, but here’s a good example of working together,” he