Ask Drayden Van Dyke about the last quarter-mile of the fourth race at Santa Anita on Jan. 26, and he probably would answer with something like: "Drayden who?"
It's just as well that he can't remember. Van Dyke was riding the 3-year-old filly Tawny, making only her third start after a smart maiden win at Los Alamitos in December. While leading the field nearing the quarter pole, Tawny's left front ankle gave way. Physical instinct threw her weight to the right, and her foreleg fractured.
Van Dyke went straight down while Tawny tumbled behind him, tripping another horse, Rally Back, who threw Chantal Sutherland clear and became tangled with the fallen Van Dyke, who sustained a compound fracture of his right forearm. Sutherland and Rally Back were okay.
In such moments, the ordered chaos of a parimutuel Thoroughbred race turns suddenly into a tragic battlefield, where casualties are littered in the wake of advancing troops. Van Dyke was on the ground, blacked out but moving, at least according to those who should know.
"Chantal came and visited me in the hospital," Van Dyke said this week from his home near Santa Anita. "She saw me lying there, then I just jumped up and was screaming, I guess from the pain. When the outrider got there to help me, I tried to hit him with my broken arm. I guess I was kind of out of my head in panic because I bit him, too, before they got me under control. That wasn't me."
No, that definitely wasn't Van Dyke. The Drayden Van Dyke people have come to know is a soft-spoken young jockey of 22 with a sly sense of humor and the smarts to choose riders like Mike Smith and Gary Stevens as mentors. Van Dyke won the 2014 Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice and has spent the past two years as a journeyman establishing himself with trainers and stables who appreciate his patience and light touch on horseback.
Had Jan. 26 never happened, Van Dyke would be aboard Ring Weekend on Saturday at Santa Anita in the Grade 2 Arcadia on grass, trying to erase the memory of their muddy main-track flop in the San Gabriel. Instead, Van Dyke will watch those races with interest while dealing with the immediate aftermath of what he knows will not be the last injury of his career.
"It's my first broken bone, or bones, since both of them in the forearm were broken and one of them was sticking out," Van Dyke said. "I never saw that, or if I did, I don't remember it.
"When my filly fell to the right, I remember I landed kind of awkward on my left side," he added. "So, I don't really know how I hurt my right arm unless a trailing horse hit me. I had a pretty good dent in my helmet, too. I'm thinking about asking the stewards to show me the video of the race. It wouldn't bother me to see it - more like it was happening to someone else."
Van Dyke knew Tawny well enough not to have any second thoughts.
"She won her race easy for me at Los Alamitos," he said. "She warmed up the same, didn't give me any signs of discomfort or acting different. She loaded right away like nothing was bothering her. I think she just took a bad step."
Tawny was a daughter of Minister's Wild Cat trained by Scott Hansen and owned by Gary Broad. Hansen, who also manages Broad's Oakmont Ranch in Riverside County, trains his horses at San Luis Rey Downs.
"She was the first horse I've had break down in a race," Hansen said, still shaken two weeks after the fact. "When I saw her take that step, everything just went black. The whole world turned upside down. I ran down to the track, and it was just horrible to see, with her ankle gone and poor Drayden screaming in pain. I was so glad the track vet put her down right away."
Hansen was an assistant to trainers Bobby Frankel and Julio Canani before going on his own.
"With Julio, we jogged every horse every morning in the shed row before we went out, just to be extra cautious," Hansen said. "And I've got an owner who never forces me to take a chance. I was told once that the first time it happens will be a complete surprise, and they were right. I was also told that after it happens, I'd look at every horse differently for a while, worried that they make it around, of something I might miss.
"When I saw Drayden, I thought he might have broken his back," Hansen added. "As bad as it was, I'm grateful it was only his arm."
Van Dyke was scheduled for a doctor's visit Friday to check his progress. The coming weeks will answer questions about his return.
"They put a plate and a rod in my arm," Van Dyke said, "and I have to wear a cast from just above the elbow. There's no nerve damage or soft-tissue damage, so I should have full range of motion. It's just a matter of how long the healing process takes.
"And yes, I am right-handed," he added. "If nothing else, I might come out of this with a stronger left hand."