Two Jockeys Paralyzed on Arlington Track

Two jockeys have been paralyzed at Arlington Park race track this year, and some wonder whether the new synthetic track is to blame.

The jockeys are concerned that the surface wasn't tested on humans, said Jerry Lassa, the local rep and national treasurer of the Jockeys' Guild, to the Tribune.

"They're not scared to ride. They're scared if they fall. They're wondering if they're going to be the next Rene Douglas or Michael Straight. ... Two guys in four months [on the synthetic Polytrack surface], that's a scary feeling."

Douglas went down May 23rd in the Arlington Matron Handicap when his mount, Born To Be, clipped heels with another horse and stumbled. Douglas landed on the synthetic surface, and Born To Be landed on top of him. Douglas went through seven hours of spinal surgery, but today remains paralyzed.

Straight fell in a similar incident on Aug. 26th. A steel rod was inserted in his spine, but he remains paralyzed as well.

Arlington Park President Roy Arnold pointed out that there has been a decline in injuries, and said that the best way to keep jockeys safe is to keep the horses safe.

The synthetic track was installed after the 2006 season.

According to the Tribune, in 2006, 22 horses were euthanized after falling on the natural track. In 2007, there were 14 "fatal breakdowns" on the synthetic track, and two on the natural track.

In 2008 the number of synthetic track fatal breakdowns went down again, to 12. But during this past year, the number has gone back up to 14. The season ends Sept 27.

Data released in 2008 at a racing safety summit shows there's little to no difference in fatality rates on synthetic and natural surfaces.

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