By Michael Valiante
On September 14, 2017 there were seven horses who left the gate in the 3rd race at Delaware Park. It was just another claiming race and it seemed there would be nothing special about it. Less than a minute into the race, that changed dramatically. Five of the seven jockeys were on the ground following an incident in the far turn. Two of the jockeys, Victor Carrasco and Jose Ferrer were seriously injured. Andrew Wolfsont who was uninjured, traveled to Pennsylvania to race at Penn National later that evening. He succinctly summed up the day in a tweet, “The crazy life of a jockey.”
The remainder of the card was completed that day after the 3rd race. Racing is a game where the show goes on and the bettors turned their minds to the next race. For Carrasco and Ferrer there would be no racing for quite some time. Instead for them there was surgery, pain, rehab, loss of income and boredom. Danger is always present for jockeys but as hard as it is for the participants it can also be hard for their significant others.
To get an idea of just what those closest to the jockeys must be thinking when they are watching their loved one’s ride races. I first spoke with Brooke Sillaman. Brooke is the girlfriend of Victor Carrasco and she is the daughter of Richard Sillaman who has been training horses since 1983. As such, Brooke has been around racing her entire life. Her response to what she is thinking when Victor races illustrates not only her affection for Victor but a very level-headed understanding of the risks a jockey takes.
“I know how much Victor loves racing and I fully support his career. Everyone in the industry knows riding is dangerous and while I am 110% confident in his abilities, sometimes things can happen that are out of your control, like the spill in September 2017 that sidelined him for 9 months. “It was hard seeing him hurt and not doing what he loves most but it was inspiring to see how hard he worked to come back, and I couldn’t be any prouder of his determination.” I go to as many races as I can; whether it’s here in Laurel or driving with Victor out-of-town, and “I watch, pray, cheer, and occasionally hold my breath.” Sometimes I worry when the gates open or they’re bunched up going around the turn. “Win or lose the race, having him come home safe is a win in my book.”
Ashleigh Beveridge is also not a novice when it comes to understanding the dangers of riding. Despite her youth Ashleigh has had extensive experience working horses out and handling lead ponies at several tracks across the nation. She has also worked for a professional cutting horse trainer and has experienced several terrible falls herself. She currently is residing near Tampa Bay Downs where she lives with her boyfriend, jockey Jose Bracho.
“I think the best way, for me, to describe handling the pressure of watching Jose ride is that we always talk about his races the night before. I always sit down with him and go over the PP’s and he tells me how he thinks each horse should run, so when it comes time for those horses to run, I try to just think about exactly what he is going to do. Is he going to go to the lead, should he have stayed farther back, maybe he shouldn’t be out so wide? It helps me focus more on him and that horse running their race. Aside from that, we don’t talk much during races a quick see ya later, good luck, be careful, love you lots. I still get filled with anxiety no matter what. None of us are blind to that ambulance following them around each turn, but the less we think and worry about the “what if’s” the better. We all know the danger involved.”
Brittany Trimble Russell has been married to jockey Sheldon Russell for less than a year. Brittany also trains horses in the mid-Atlantic region and Sheldon sometimes rides for her. Like Brooke and Ashleigh, Brittany understands the dangers of horse racing but her comments logically seem more like ones that would come from her role as wife as opposed to her role as trainer.
Brittany Trimble Russell
“I honestly try not to have negative thoughts about Sheldon riding. We all know how dangerous being a jockey is, but mentally for both of us we must stay positive and keep that energy. The unfortunate thing with this game is that “it’s not if, it’s when” with accidents but with that being said we can’t live our lives worrying about it; we must focus on the good and stay healthy!”
It struck me when talking to each of these three young women that it is a benefit, they are so knowledgeable about horses and the game of racing. I must believe that when an accident occurs it would be tougher for a neophyte to handle the aftermath. The hours at a racetrack are long so it is only natural that relationships would form inside the racing community. Twitter followers of Victor Carrasco can attest that he was very grateful to Brooke and her role and support in his recovery. I have no doubt that each of the jockeys are appreciative of the support that they get from their significant others and that a big part of their success comes because of that support.
Jockey Angel Suarez confirmed as much when he spoke with me about how both his mother and girlfriend handle the pressure of watching him ride.
Jockey Angel Suarez
“My mom gets really worried.” She loves watching me ride but at the same time, she doesn’t. She gets too nervous. My girlfriend understands the business as she works with horses as well, but she also worries a lot. Even when she is busy working, she makes sure she watches the results and makes sure I pass the wire every single race. They both worry a lot. As you know this profession is dangerous and all it takes is a bad spill and you’re out of the game for good. They also understand this is what I love doing so even though they worry, they’re really supportive.”
Is a positive postscript both jockeys Carrasco and Ferrer ultimately recovered from their major injuries and both have been very successful in their comebacks. Continued success is not guaranteed and will be based in part on avoiding injury. As Andrew Wolfsont said on that fateful September day in 2017. “The crazy life of a jockey.”
The life of a jockey can end suddenly and tragically at any point. We all remember Juan Saez and here is a tribute from our past articles to him and all riders…