BREEDERS’ CUP OR BUST: OUR KIND OF TOWN, CHICAGO IS
When a jockey goes down in a race, there’s no one that shows more concern than a fellow rider, even if it’s been 45 years since that fellow rider has been on a horse’s back. I witnessed that concern Thursday afternoon at Hawthorne, when a horse named Loose Lips got cut off a few strides out of the gate in the seventh race and jockey Angel Stanley tumbled to the ground.
Brad Cummings and I were sitting with former jockey Dennis Keehan in the box area when the incident occurred, and the look in his eyes when Stanley went down was a picture I’ll remember for some time. Fortunately, Stanley jumped up and apparently was uninjured.
Keehan wasn’t so lucky the last time he fell onto a racetrack. It was 45 years ago at Sportsman’s Park when a horse he was riding was shut off, stumbled and went down in a four-horse spill. A trailing horse tripped and fell right on top of his chest, paralyzing him from the waist down. Keehan was 21 years old, and needless to say, he’s been through a lot since then. Claire Novak tells his story in a poignant ESPN.com article here.
Today, Keehan is a witty and engaging man who now and then enjoys coming out to the track, handicapping the races and betting a couple of bucks. Life isn’t easy when you’re in a wheelchair and on your own, but the monthly check he gets from the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund helps Keehan get out from under the medical bills that can pile up when you have special needs.
To see the Dennis Keehan interview, click below.
We were at Hawthorne on day two of the BREEDERS’ CUP OR BUST fundraising drive from Kentucky to California, and as I said in our sendoff from Keeneland yesterday, where we were blanked at the betting windows, Chicago is our kind of town.
We’d like to thank TVG, Bill Casner and WinStar Farm, Barry Irwin of Team Valor International, and Kate Lantaff of Tahoma Stud for sponsoring this segment of the trip. Their sponsorship dollars go directly through Breeders’ Cup Charities and will be divided equally between the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Lane’s End, Darley, Airdrie Stud and Overbrook Farm sponsored the first segment.
Hawthorne’s management and staff provided the same great hospitality we were treated to at Keeneland, but the horses here were much more accommodating. The wagering bankroll provided to us by Breeders’ Cup more than doubled (thanks largely to a 7-1 winner, Watch Pat, in the fifth race) making up for a tough start in Kentucky. Our guest handicapper from the TVG online community, Steve Hunsberger, also had a good day at Hawthorne, hitting an exacta in the sixth along with a sizable place bet on the second-place finisher, Napoleon’s Retreat, whose Waterloo came in the final sixteenth of a mile. Had Napoleon’s Retreat held on for the win, Steve would have cashed an even bigger ticket. on behalf of the charities. Thanks to TVG for their partnership on this fundraising effort and to all the members of the TVG community who participated.
Hawthorne got into the spirit, too, bankrolling Katie Mikolay, the track’s personable simulcast hostess and handicapper, and assistant general manager Jim Miller. If they went bust (like I did at Keeneland on Wednesday), Hawthorne was going to make a generous donation to Breeders’ Cup charities. A special thanks to Hawthorne president and general manager Tim Carey.
All proceeds from the winnings go to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
Whether you are an owner, breeder, trainer, racing fan/horseplayer or someone like me who has had the good fortune to make his living in this industry, I hope you’ll consider making a donation to support these two worthy organizations.
Please click here to go to the Breeders’ Cup Charities page and make a donation.
Hawthorne was where I became a racing fan and horseplayer when I lived in Chicago in the mid-1970s, and it’s always fun coming back to the track where I “cut my teeth” in racing. Like any racetrack in Illinois that has to compete with casinos in the Chicago suburbs or in neighboring Indiana, there have been some struggles, but the Carey family that’s owned Hawthorne for 100 years is committed to racing, and it shows.
While here, we had the opportunity to meet several members of the jockey colony, including Jerry LaSala, a board member and treasurer of the Jockeys’ Guild, and the unique father and son riding duo of Randy and Brandon Meier. Randy Meier’s broken 50 bones during his career, and he wasn’t crazy about his son following in his footsteps, but racing has a way of getting into your blood. In talking with him about 21-year-old Brandon, though, you can sense the pride he has in him and can tell how much fun he’s having riding with and against his son.
See interviews with Jerry LaSala and the Meiers by clicking below.
We’re meeting PDJF executive director Nancy LaSala Friday and hope to have a chance to talk with Michael Straight, who suffered a devastating injury this summer as a young apprentice rider at Arlington Park and is undergoing rehabilitation. Then it will be back on the road for the drive to Remington Park in Oklahoma City for some fun and fundraising activities on Sunday.
We’ve got a long road ahead of us between here and California for the Nov. 6-7 Breeders’ Cup, but it’s nothing compared to what these disabled riders face when their passion and their world comes crashing down on them.
If I haven’t asked you already, and I know I have, I’ll ask you again: please give.