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Jockeys welfare at forefront of Cup eve event
ROSS GERAGHTY - photo by Tom Didato

As a steeplechase jockey/trainer, Forrest Kelly has had his share of spills from the back of a horse and knows what it is like to be laying on the ground waiting for medical help to arrive at the scene to tend to injuries sustained after being thrown off a mount.

The Maryland resident has also seen and experienced horrific accidents involving his fellow jump jockeys and the time it takes emergency medical professionals to reach their victim. Two such incidents occurred last spring in devastating injuries to National Steeplechase Association riders Paddy Young and Kieran Norris which led Kelly and others to take up the banner for their friends and colleagues in the business.

Kelly, along with Jenny Pearson, head up the Steeplechase Jockeys Association of America, an organization which looks out for the welfare --- both on and off the race course --- of the handful of athletes in this country who choose to participate in a sport which combines the sheer beauty of the horse and rider bounding seemingly effortlessly over fences along with those falls which tend to make spectators turn their heads and look the other way.

Friday night, the organization will use the Lowcountry Boil and Steamed Oysters at the National Steeplechase Museum on Knights Hill Rd. in Camden to bring information about the efforts and solicit funds from guests. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 for NSM members and $40 for non-NSM members. Reservations are due by Wednesday, March 28. Call 432-0801 to make a reservation or, to receive more information on the evening itself.

Scheduled to be on hand and to be guest speakers for the Cup-event event are jockeys Ross Geraghty, an SJAA board member, and Michael Mitchell. The two riders will talk to guests about their mounts in Saturday’s Carolina Cup card among other subjects in exchange for a donation to the SJAA.

Geraghty has won the previous two runnings of the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup aboard Rawnaq (2015) and Top Striker (2016) while Mitchell rode Show Court to victory in last spring’s $75,000 Carolina Cup. He later missed six weeks of riding due to an injury suffered in the Queens Cup in suburban Charlotte on April 27.

Kelly said the SJAA is designed to increase “the safety and welfare not only at the races but for the jockeys in general.” That far reaching list, he said, encompasses everything from the condition of the race courses over which both amateur and professional riders and their horses compete to response times for EMS workers to something as seemingly innocuous as improved facilities for jockeys in which to dress and shower following an afternoon of racing.

As a sounding board for jockeys and trying to improve on the working relationship between race meets and riders, the SJAA has virtually left no stone unturned when it comes to having a safe and accommodating work environment for all riders.

“Aiken, actually,” Kelly said of a race meet which kicked off the 2018 NSA campaign on Saturday, “has been at the forefront of that with getting showers for the guys which is pretty essential to the health of these guys. It’s actually pretty incredible that these guys ride in six or seven races a day and then are asked to fly from the Carolinas all the way back to Maryland or, Pennsylvania and sweating after working for four or five hours.”

Working hand-in-hand with the National Steeplechase Foundation and the National Steeplechase Association Task Force on Safety, the parties are working to maintain and enhance the highest safety standards to project the well-being of both riders and their mounts. 

“We work closely with the NSA Task Force on Safety and co-wrote a new medical safety protocol this past summer which was implemented in the fall and will continue to be implemented this year,” Kelly said. “Basically, it asks for increased response time, of 30 seconds or less, to downed riders at the races. After a couple issues last spring, we all, together, deemed it necessary to come up with a new medical protocol.”

Kelly said the SJAA is slated to have a new medical app in place in the coming week or two which will track all licensed NSA jockeys.

One of the chief concerns for jump jockeys in America has always been and continues to be insurance coverage. Kelly said a meeting is scheduled to be held on Friday with NSA Task Force head and former jockey and now-owner/trainer Charlie Fenwick to discuss if the Task Force is interested in paying the premium for the riders so the jockeys will not have to worry the disability policy being funded. The disability insurance, Kelly said, “is for anybody who puts ‘jockey’ as their profession on the IRS tax return. There are only 13 professional (steeplechase jockeys) in this country, currently.” 

Kelly said finding an insurance firm which would handle claims filed by jump jockeys was a tiring venture in itself.

“We have these guys trying to fill a gap between the health care that they have and the NSA policy,” he said. 

“We found a company to underwrite and, it’s actually very hard to find a company to underwrite a policy for a jockey who rides over fences due to the inherent nature of it. The problem is, with what they are making in this country, the risk far outweighs the rewards. The issue is, with that these guys are making versus what the policy costs, is that it’s almost 10 percent of their yearly income. It’s a significant amount of money.”

Kelly said that should all go well in Friday’s meeting with the National Steeplechase Foundation, pretty much any donation receive until the SJAA gets its 501-C3 (non-profit organization) status will be made make it through the (National Steeplechase Foundation) with the memo line of it going to the SJAA.

The SJAA is currently in the process of becoming incorporated in the state of Maryland while pursuing 501-C3 status so that it can become a non-profit and, hopefully, be a recipient of funds from the steeplechase race meets which the riders are participating throughout the course of the NSA campaign.