Having Qualified Paramedics On Hand a Concern for Jockeys

Making sure there are qualified paramedics on hand at racetracks became a touchstone issue during a panel discussion Thursday afternoon during the Association for Racing Commissioners International conference.

Taking the lead in the conversation was Darrell Haire, current acting president of the Jockeys' Guild. His comments were echoed by Hall of Fame rider Chris McCarron, who is currently at work getting the North American Riding Academy off the ground in Lexington.

Speaking before a room full of state regulators during a session related to jockey issues, Haire put forward the idea that state regulators should require qualified paramedics to be on hand at all racetracks.

"It's an economic issue," McCarron said. "There are racetracks around the country--and the racing commissioners may or may not be aware of this--that have ambulances that are not licensed to leave the grounds. To me, this is mind-boggling. A jockey goes down, is picked up by the ambulance, and has less than a paramedic, sometimes less than a basic life-support on staff, and the jockey has to sit in this ambulance and wait for an off-site ambulance to come along and get him and take him to the hospital. This is a life-or-death situation. You'd think common sense would prevail and say 'let's do what we can in a pro-active way to reduce those numbers and try to correct these situations the best we can.'"

"In the state of California, you can't conduct a high school football game without having a physician on the sidelines," he said. "There are many racetracks around the country that do not have doctor on the property. To me, that doesn't make sense."

Later in the discussion, a plan to pitch for a national study to chart jockey accidents and injuries was made by Dr. Karin Opacich of the University of Illinois.

Opacich noted that there have only been two studies on jockey injuries, one done in the late 1980s and one done in the mid '90s. The later study, while presented in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is now deemed inappropriate and biased because it was conducted by an insurance company.

Opacich recommended that a "national jockey injury database should be developed whereby all injury data is prospectively filed in one central place and analyzed annually."

While the jockey colony could be the focus of the study, the system would also be beneficial to exercise riders, backstretch workers, and horses "whose interaction results in accidents and injuries."

Results of the study could assist regulators and racing commissions, race track owners and operators, horsemen, and legislators in future negotiations with insurance providers.

"During a period in which you've (the racing industry) just emerged from congressional hearings on jockeys, it is a good time to move forward with this project," said Opacich, an advocate for an "Accident and Injury Surveillance System in Horseracing."

"You know that the government is looking," she said. "I've heard a good deal of both fear and loathing and welcoming of federal regulation, so it would seem that it is a good time to think about ways to self-regulate."