April 17, 2011, started out as a typical morning at the track for Remington Park starting gate crew member Jeremy Best. He never thought later that afternoon he would be saving someone’s life.
“When you don’t know what to do, you just do it,” said Best, 36, who rescued the 69-year-old Quarter Horse jockey Roy Brooks from the wild thrashings of the panicked and entangled horse Fit Ta Fly.
For that heroic act, Best has been selected as the Race Track Chaplaincy of America’s 2011 White Horse Award recipient.
“It’s our job on the starting gate to protect the jockeys, then the horses, then ourselves,” said Best. “It’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Best, who was also recognized in 2010 when he hefted a car to rescue a pinned 83-year-old neighbor, talked about how grateful he was to receive the White Horse Award. The honor is presented annually by RTCA to a backstretch worker who has done something heroic on behalf of human or horse.
“When I was a kid I wanted to follow in the footsteps of riders like Wesley Ward because he’s from where I’m from,” said Best, whose father, Frank Best, was a leading rider in the Northwest. “Wesley won the Eclipse Award as an apprentice jockey, and I wanted to try and accomplish that goal. But this award means more to me…I didn’t win the Eclipse, but I won the White Horse. Instead of following in (Wesley's) footsteps, I got to have my own footsteps, so to be honored is the best; it’s amazing.”
During the April 17 incident at Remington, Fit Ta Fly was in the gate for the fifth race with Brooks in the saddle. Suddenly, the horse attempted to flip backwards, and ended up on his rear end, thrashing wildly and striking Brooks in the head and chest with his hind legs.
Best witnessed the spectacle from his position at the back of the starting gate, dashed to the front of the structure, dove under the front of the post, and while also being struck by Fit Ta Fly’s hooves, pulled Brooks to safety.
Brooks was rushed to the trauma treatment center with severe head and chest injuries, while Best was treated for lacerations of his left arm. Brooks would live to ride again.
“Roy wanted to win a race when he was 70 years old and now he gets that opportunity,” said Best, who accepted the White Horse Award during a RTCA luncheon Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs, one day prior to the Breeders' Cup World Championships. “I’m thankful he’s able to do that. All the stories my father used to tell me have given me instincts I have.”
Best has been a valet and worked on the starting gate crew at Remington Park since 2001. He still gallops horses every morning.
Speaking to the members of the horse industry in the audience, Best, added, “You’re all family at the end of the day—you all are part of me…I don’t know all of you, but I’d like to be able to help you if I can, and I’m sure you’d do the same for me.”
Bill Casner gave the keynote address at the RTCA luncheon, during which he recounted the incredible comeback story of his grade/group I winner Well Armed, who overcame a fractured hip as a 2-year-old.
“The horses I’ve remembered most are the ones that gave you everything they had,” said Casner of Well Armed, who he compared to the heroes of the backstretch that the White Horse Award honors.
Also during the RTCA luncheon, the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association received a Community Service Award for its charitable contributions to the industry. The RTCA additionally paid tribute to the late Chick Lang, a Pimlico legend.