The Backstretch Employee Service Team (B.E.S.T.) has established the Andrew Lakeman Assistance Fund to benefit the jockey who suffered a broken spinal cord in a May 25 race at Belmont Park, B.E.S.T. announced June 13. All proceeds of the fund will be used to offset Lakeman's medical expenses and ongoing care.
According to B.E.S.T. President Cate Dolan, 32-year-old Lakeman underwent surgery on his back May 31, but doctors at North Shore University Hospital say it is unlikely that he will walk again. In addition to the spinal cord injury, Lakeman sustained a fractured sternum, punctured lung, and broken ribs. He was transported to the New York hospital May 25 after his mount, Our Montana Dream, fell on the far turn of the fourth race, a one mile turf event at Belmont Park. Lady Alice, a horse ridden by Norberto Arroyo Jr., then colided with Lakeman and his fallen mount. Arroyo suffered a broken collarbone and was expected to remain on the sidelines for at least six weeks following the accident. Both horses were unharmed.
“Although he developed pneumonia at one point and was on a respirator, Andrew is breathing on his own and is making remarkable progress compared to where he was on the first night, when we actually thought we might lose him,” Dolan said of the rider, who also underwent a tracheotomy and is currently sustained by a feeding tube. “The long-term effects of his injury are not completely clear, but the expectation is that he will not be able to walk again. He is not showing any brain damage or mental injury, he is able to communicate and it is anticipated that he will recover from the damage that was done to his throat as the doctors worked to keep his lungs going in the early stages of his hospital stay.”
"Andrew Lakeman worked in the New York racing community as an exercise rider and jockey for many years,” said Rich Cristiano, chairman of the B.E.S.T. Board. “At B.E.S.T. we've known Andrew through his participation in our programs since 2003, and recently he recorded a testimonial about how helpful B.E.S.T. has been to him. He's faced many challenges, but none so great as the challenges he'll face with his injury. He's really going to need the help of the racing community."
Dolan said it is uncertain whether Lakeman will remain in New York or go back to his native England. He will be released from the hospital in a week to 10 days to a rehab facility which has yet to be selected. Lakeman's parents and a sister came to the U.S. when they were notified of his injury two weeks ago, but will eventually return to England.
“I think he certainly sees New York as his home, and before he received the news last night I think his every expectation was that he would return to the racetrack,” Dolan said. “Now I’m sure there will be further discussion with his parents. Because we have known Andrew for several years now and know how strong he can be and how he draws on strong spiritual strength as well as psychological strength, because we know him well we fully expect to be involved in helping him get through this very hard time. He’s shown tremendous strength over the past 10 months or so since he’s been back in our program, and did have a very positive outlook on life, so we hope to be able to help him maintain that.”
Contributions to the Andrew Lakeman Assistance Fund, which are tax-deductible, should be mailed to B.E.S.T. at Belmont Park, 2150 Hempstead Turnpike, Gate 6, Cottage 28B, Elmont, NY 11003. Donations can also be made calling the B.E.S.T. office at 516-488-3434.
B.E.S.T. provides multiple on-site health and human services to support workers in the barn areas of Saratoga, Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetracks. The organization draws upon strong connections to New York’s extended communities around the tracks to help backstretch workers lead healthy and full lives.