Big A jockeys to ride as talks go on

OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- Though there remains a conflict between the New York Racing Association and the jockeys over which hospital riders should be taken to following an ontrack spill, both sides agreed that racing would resume Wednesday at Aqueduct as scheduled. Four of Saturday's races and Sunday's entire nine-race card were canceled after jockeys refused to ride following a spill in Saturday's fifth race, the second accident in three days.

"We're going to race on Wednesday," Bill Nader, NYRA's senior vice president and chief operating officer, said Monday.

"As far as racing Wednesday, we're not intending on not riding," said jockey Mike Luzzi, who has ridden at Aqueduct each winter since 1994. "I'm speaking for everybody, having not spoken to everybody, but I'm sure everybody feels the same; there's no intention of that."

Officials from NYRA were scheduled to meet with jockeys as well as representatives of the Jockeys' Guild on Tuesday to discuss the hospital matter. The jockeys have expressed a desire to be taken to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset - 25 minutes away from Aqueduct - as opposed to Jamaica Hospital because of what they deem as less than adequate care. Jamaica Hospital is located 10 minutes from the track.

On Monday, Nader and David Smuckler, NYRA's human resources director, met with eight senior officials of Jamaica Hospital. Nader left that meeting feeling comfortable that Jamaica is well-equipped to aid jockeys who are seriously injured.

"We have access now to senior management, which is great," Nader said. "They made available to us a hotline number which goes right to the nurse in charge; different things that we can do that will provide more definitive attention to an injured jockey that is coming to Jamaica. Substance matters, and in terms of trauma cases I think it's a great hospital. I realize some people here are going to disagree with that."

Though the hospital issue has been raised in past years, it came to a boil last weekend after jockey Jose Santos relayed a bad experience he had at Jamaica following a spill at Aqueduct on Thursday. According to Rita Santos, his wife, Jose Santos's injuries were misdiagnosed. Instead of two compressed vertebrae and two cracked ribs, Jose Santos suffered potentially severe spinal cord damage and a broken sternum as the result of the spill. Santos, who does not have broken ribs, was to be fitted for a body cast Monday, and surgery has not been ruled out down the road.

On Saturday, jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. was injured when his mount, Cadillac Cruiser, broke a leg while leading the field around the clubhouse turn. Arroyo, who had a contusion over his left eye and was complaining of pain in his left shoulder, wanted to go to North Shore, but on-site Emergency Medical Technicians insisted he go to Jamaica because his injury involved the head. Arroyo was treated and released at Jamaica by 6:30 p.m. and is expected to ride Wednesday.

Nader said it is the protocol of the Regional Medical Services Council of New York City that "you can't bypass a Level 1 trauma center in situations when it mandates the injured party needs that type of care." Jamaica is a Level 1 trauma center.

According to current and former riders, the jockeys have had an unwritten agreement with NYRA to be taken to North Shore following a spill except in cases where injuries could be life-threatening. Retired Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey said he helped negotiate that deal in the early 1990's.

"It wasn't written," Bailey said Monday from south Florida. "We trusted the people we dealt with. What we wanted was the best care, the most efficient care - it was a no-brainer. We work in an industry where an ambulance follows us around. This is the most basic - basic - of requests. This is like asking a mother to feed her baby."

Bailey notes that at Belmont Park jockeys are taken to North Shore, though Long Island Jewish Hospital is a few miles closer. Following spills at Saratoga, jockeys are taken to Albany Medical Center as opposed to Saratoga Hospital, which is not a Level 1 trauma center.