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

anymore risk.”

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,”

Schumer said.

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

mandated.

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

standard.

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

said.

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