Every Jockey's Nightmare
Photo:
Ray Paulick
Editor-in-Chief
David Guillory has never watched a replay of the race that ended his riding career. He's never wanted to. Guillory remembers turning into the stretch, seeing a horse just in front veering in on him, and yelling at the horse's rider. He doesn't recall what happened next, but he doesn't need to see a videotape to remind him.

Guillory's next memory wasn't a pleasant one. He was being lifted onto an ambulance, and there was no sensation in his arms, legs, or anywhere below his neck. Suddenly, he was living every jockey's nightmare.

Guillory was three weeks shy of his 42nd birthday on Aug. 2, 2002, when Docks Day Off clipped heels and pitched him onto the Louisiana Downs main track. To that point in his career, the Cajun jockey had ridden 2,477 winners and his mounts had earned nearly $27 million. But it all came to an end in a split second.

In some respects, Guillory has been lucky. In the two years since the accident, he's managed to get most of the feeling back in his extremities. He got out of a wheelchair after a year, and he's now able to walk with some confidence.

"There is still a lot of paralysis, but I'm getting around," Guillory said. "I can't use my hands like I need to. I can't feel the tips. There are good days and bad days, but I'm able to do things now that I couldn't do a few months ago. Even now, I'm still wobbly. I have to be careful, especially going up and down steps."

His rehabilitation allows Guillory to spend quality time playing with his two granddaughters at his home in Haughton, La. But it hasn't brought him far enough back to where he can work.

Guillory's accident occurred four months after Jockeys' Guild officials allowed a $1-million accident insurance policy for its members to lapse. Insurance provided by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations paid the first $100,000 in bills, and Guillory said the insurance company and hospital worked closely to reduce costs as much as possible. Still, he was stuck with $25,000 that he couldn't pay.

Guillory called the Jockeys' Guild and asked for help. To its credit, he said, the Guild paid the entire amount.

Gary Birzer wasn't so lucky. Injured this July 20 at Mountaineer Park, Birzer is paralyzed from the waist down. He and wife Amy face several hundred thousand dollars in medical bills in excess of the $100,000 paid through the TRA's catastrophic injury policy. A Guild officer told Amy Birzer the bills would be taken care of, then reneged, according to published reports.

It's been 40 months since former rider Chris McCarron engineered a takeover of the Jockeys' Guild in June 2001 and put the organization in the hands of economics professor Wayne Gertmenian and Matrix Capital Associates, a consulting company he runs. According to sources, Gertmenian is paid $160,000 annually for what is essentially a part-time job, and Matrix Capital gets about $480,000.

In March 2002, Gertmenian failed to renew the $1-million insurance policy covering riding accidents suffered by Guild members. The premium was in the vicinity of $450,000 per year. The Guild could have used some of the $2.2 million it received each year from the TRA to pay for the policy, but Gertmenian opted not to renew it.

Five months later, after the injury to David Guillory, many Guild members were not aware the $1-million policy was gone. Perhaps that was because the Guild paid Guillory's bills. When Gary Birzer went down and his bills piled up, word quickly spread among jockeys that the catastrophic coverage was not renewed.

Many jockeys are now venting their anger toward racetrack officials or the TRA. It's becoming more and more evident to me that the leadership of the Jockeys' Guild may have hung the organization's own members out to dry.

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