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TrackNotes: A Jockey's Life

Hot on the announcement by Major League Baseball that it will institute a seven-day disabled list option for players suffering concussions, the movement of sports in general to recognize this most serious of injuries can only be greeted with 21st-century relief.

It runs counter to the old unwritten rule of "playing hurt," but attention to this injury is warranted and sensible. Now, if coaches from Pop Warner on up can start teaching players not to tackle with their heads.

It also gives us a chance to contemplate the efforts of jockeys, perhaps the greatest athletes of them all.

It's timely because of a heartwarming video released this week showing veteran jockey Eibar Coa actually taking some steps just weeks after a spill in February at Gulfstream Park paralyzed him.

Running out after the wire, Coa's horse stumbled and threw the jockey. He suffered a fracture of his C-4 vertebra and underwent six hours of surgery that night. There was apparently some cause for optimism as Coa had feeling in his body and was able to move his hands slightly the next morning.

Jockey Paco Lopez suffered a chipped elbow when his horse came upon Coa's fallen mount. Both horses escaped injury.

Coa, 40, is one of those veteran jockeys who gives you an honest ride every time out. Although yet to be named to the Hall of Fame, Coa won his 4,000th race last July. While he's never won a Triple Crown race, his resume includes two Breeders' Cup Sprint wins (2004, 2010) and victory in prestigious races including the Brooklyn Handicap, Tampa Bay Derby, Illinois Derby, Test Stakes, Donn Handicap and January's Spectacular Bid Stakes on the 14-1 Determinato.

Confining his tack to primarily the eastern seaboard from Florida to Saratoga, Coa in 2006 became one of only four jockeys to win 300 races in one year on the New York circuit.

On the eve of my annual visit to beautiful Oaklawn Park, Coa's progress report seems a good opportunity to appreciate what jockeys do.

A jockey's work includes all the psychological nuances of getting a half-ton or more animal to trust you, listen to you and run like hell for you. With five or ten other like-minded horses and jockeys trying to do the same thing while going 35 or 40 miles per hour on a surface that might be slippery at worst and tiring at best. All while you balance on your toes and "speak" to the horse through virtuosic control of two leather reins.

And they don't have guaranteed contracts, like the Silvas or Sorianos of this world. The best riders get the best horses get the most wins get the best horses. Hot new jockeys come along every year. There are no laurels to rest on, always another meet to run.

These guys are tough as nails, as tough as any athlete, probably more. And though he cannot be out of the woods, his conditioning had to help Coa make so much progress.

But we cannot forget others who have not been as fortunate.

Veteran Rene Douglas, the author of so many great rides at Arlington, Hawthorne and beyond still recovers from the horrific spill he took at Arlington Park in May, 2009, in the most dreaded of accidents: his horse fell on top of him.

Young rider Michael Straight also recovers from his accident later that same summer at Arlington. He's even been aboard a horse and vows that if he can't race-ride again, he'll stay around the thoroughbreds one way or another.

So I'll be seeing guys at Oaklawn like Berry, Thompson, Compton, Shino, Saez, Borel, Baze and Gonzalez and Rene's best friend Eusibio "Eddie" Razo and be amazed by these guys ten more times on the Friday card.

Our Giant
Illinois-bred Giant Oak showed his new brand of determination in a tough loss Saturday in the New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds.

Unable to catch a streaking Mission Impazible, Oak also could not best Apart, even after Giant Oak took a lead going into the final furlong. Going six wide around the turn did not help Oak's chances.

After finishing fifth in the Handicap last year and third Saturday, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan had a theory.

"I think he just doesn't like the track," Bridgmohan said. "He never grabbed a hold of the bit. He just doesn't get a hold of this track."

We'll look for Giant Oak sometime during Kentucky Derby weekend.

Foal Goal
Super mare Zenyatta is now "out of foal" after it was announced in early March that she had successfully gone into foal by Bernardini.

Lane's End Farm said it's nothing unusual for a maiden mare and that she'd be getting another date with Bernardini soon.


Comments welcome.

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