LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — As jockey John Velazquez lay unconscious on the track, 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.
That was 2008. Keeneland is now amping up its safety efforts.
Track officials are mandating any jockey who races at the track provide medical information for its internal computer database, giving 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 does 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.