Fundraisers for Jockeys Set for Weekend

Fundraisers are on tap this weekend for jockey-related causes.

Jockeys throughout the United States and Canada will exhibit their unified show of support Sept. 5 for apprentice jockey Michael Straight, who was injured in a racing accident Aug. 26 at Arlington Park.

On Sept. 6, River Downs in Ohio will raise money for disabled jockey Gary Birzer and jockey Justin Vitek, who continues to battle leukemia.

Jockeys are being asked to donate one mount fee Sept. 6 to the Don MacBeth Memorial Fund earmarked for Straight to help defray costs of his long-term needs. They will ride with two patches on their boots, one in honor of Straight and the other paying tribute to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, which currently aids 60 permanently disabled jockeys.

“We appreciate the generosity of the jockeys, racetracks, and fans throughout the country,” said John Velazquez, chairman of the board of directors of the Jockeys’ Guild. “We think it is important that those who love the sport of racing show support for Michael at this critical time. We are in his corner.

“These charities are critical to the industry, and the Jockeys’ Guild is donating $7,000 to the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance to help make the sport safer for all involved, both human and equine,” Guild national manager Terry Meyocks said. “The industry will never be strong if we can’t provide for those in the industry that need help as a result of life-changing events. Racing seems to be facing this problem now more than ever before, and we need to continue on that path.”

The weekend of Sept. 6-8 also is set aside for fundraising for the safety alliance, which accredits racetracks. 

At River Downs, which will end its meet with the Coca-Cola Bassinet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies Sept. 6 and the Bud Select Cradle Stakes for 2-year-olds Sept. 8 will host the Justin Vitek/Gary Birzer Benefit Sept. 6. The highlight is a silent auction.

Vitek, jokingly known as the “Czech from Texas,” was diagnosed last year with acute myelogenous leukemia. He has undergone multiple chemotherapy treatments, some of which lasted up to 24 hours.  He recently had stem-cell treatment and is recuperating in Texas with hopes to return to riding in the future.

Birzer remains paralyzed from the waist down after suffering injuries to his neck and spinal cord in a two-horse spill in 2004 at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort. Despite his current condition, which involves daily therapy and continued medical support, he is focusing on raising his two children.

River Downs began the Gary Birzer Benefit in 2005, but when Birzer learned of Vitek’s situation, he offered to split the proceeds of his charitable event.

The silent auction will feature an Inside Media-donated a guitar signed by The Jonas Brothers. River Downs publicist John Engelhardt said it could be the big-ticket item, so the track is accepting reserve bids by telephone at 513-354-8243. The silent auction ends at 5 p.m. EDT.

Meanwhile, Hoxworth is holding a blood drive at the track for Vitek. For every donation received in Vitek’s name, he’ll receive a credit for the unit of blood regardless of type.

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