On June 26 at 7:30 in the morning, Kellie Hedges was breezing a filly alongside a friend at Belterra Park near Cincinnati, Ohio. Without warning, the filly's front legs gave out from under her, propelling Hedges to the ground and rolling over top of her. The filly got up, apparently unfazed, and was eventually run down by outriders.
Her rider was not so lucky.
“When you fall like that, your first instinct is to get up and get clear,” said Hedges, a racetrack fixture since 1982. “I wasn't knocked out, but definitely dazed. I tried to get up, but I fell right back down. Then I heard people telling me to stay down until help came.”
The accident happened on the inside rail shortly after the half-mile pole. The track ambulance was parked, as usual, outside the track at the maintenance shed by the three-eighths pole.
Witnesses say it was a matter of several minutes before a single EMT came out to check on Hedges. He asked her if she could walk, and helped Hedges limp the 30 feet to the outside rail, then to crawl under it, in order to reach the ambulance. Meanwhile, morning training continued on the racetrack, horses galloping past the fallen rider.
Once Hedges had reached the ambulance, she said security guards on a golf cart came over insisting they see her license. Exercise riders rarely carry their license on them when on the track, as anything inside a pocket can easily be lost during gallops. Hedges said the security guards insisted that she exit the ambulance and ride in the golf cart to the stable gate, in order to check on her license.
“I was telling them I was hurting, that I needed to go to the hospital, and that I needed to make sure my boyfriend knew it was me who had fallen,” said Hedges.
Her license checked out, so Hedges was taken back to the ambulance via golf cart. By that time, a second ambulance had arrived to take her to a local hospital. Once there, doctors realized Hedges would require emergency surgery in order to save her leg, and sent her to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Hedges suffered a broken leg, five broken ribs, and a broken clavicle. Swelling in her leg was so bad that the doctors had to perform a fasciotomy, cutting slits down each side of her calf to relieve the pressure and leaving tubes in so that it can continue to drain.
She has already gone through two surgeries, and will go under again in the next several days to repair the clavicle, which isn't healing properly. In the future, doctors have said she might require skin grafts to repair the fasciotomy on her leg.
“I've fallen before, of course,” Hedges said. “But I've never had a fall like that. I love to gallop, but that was pretty scary.”
Throughout her ordeal, Hedges doesn't remember ever seeing either of Belterra's two outriders on shift that morning. Witnesses say they were standing together near the gap after catching the loose horse, never going to check for a fallen rider.
During her career, Hedges has served nearly every job on the track, including seven years outriding at the old Beulah Park. In fact, she remembers very clearly the day in 2005 that Josh Radosevich went down in a race and was killed.
“I was the first one to get to him that day, and I knew immediately he was gone,” she said, still emotional about the accident. “When you see a loose horse, and it has a saddle and bridle on, don't you go look for the rider? That's what the outrider does.”
The Jockeys' Guild addressed safety concerns on the racetrack in March of this year, releasing the following statement:
“The Racing Industry needs to do more to protect the jockeys and exercise riders who risk their lives every day for our sport. Racetracks and state regulators need to ensure that there are proper medical personnel trained in trauma, most importantly having paramedics on the track (both during training and racing hours), & protocols in place at every single racetrack. Racing still remains one of the only sports, professional or amateur, that does not have concussion protocols in place, which is something that is at the forefront of our concerns. We are continuing to work to get with regulators and racetracks to address this issue.”
Ohio State Racing Commission executive director William Crawford could not be reached to comment on the June 26 incident.
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