12/21/2009 12:00AM

Dec. always difficult for Meiers - father and son


STICKNEY, Ill. - In the seventh race on Dec. 3 at Hawthorne, a horse named Run Frankie Run ran down the backstretch trailing a field of $10,000 maiden claimers. Just before the half-mile pole - no warning, blink of an eye - he tumbled to the ground.

Run Frankie Run did not break down: Moments later, he got to his feet and ran off. Nor did he clip heels with another horse, or shy away from some fearful object. Run Frankie Run simply tripped and fell, which basically does not happen to racehorses.

But this was December. And 55-year old jockey Randy Meier was on Run Frankie Run's back.

December and Meier make a volatile combination. Few people know the history of month and man as intimately as Brandon Meier. Brandon is Randy's 21-year-old son. He also is a jockey riding at Hawthorne, and this was the first time Brandon had seen Randy go down not just as a son but as a fellow jockey.

"He's always had a rough time in December," Brandon said after the Hawthorne races Saturday. "It's a bad month for him. He broke both legs and his wrist in one spill in December. He broke his arm another time. It's like when winter comes, watch out."

This time, Randy broke a bone in his neck. He's wearing a brace, but no surgery was required, and the injury is expected to heal without complications. More problematic is Randy's brain, which bled and suffered bruising in the should-never-have-even-happened fall. Randy is struggling to completely regain his use of language - at times, he is forgetful.

"When the doctor looked at the CAT scan, he looked at me and said 'You're lucky he's talking at all,' " Brandon said.

Randy is home from the hospital, making progress. But this is the first time following one of his many, many injuries that the elder Meier isn't already plotting his comeback.

"I'm getting better every day," Randy said, reached by phone Monday. "It's going to be quite awhile, but every day is better. My brain feels like its full at times and slushy at other times. I can talk pretty normal. I have trouble where I can't remember things - that makes it kind of tough for me."

Brandon has watched Randy battle back from injury for as long as he can remember.

"He's broken 52 or 53 bones now," Brandon said. "He's had probably 12 or 13 concussions. He's got the two plates and four screws in his neck. This is stuff he lives with, and I've seen it growing up my whole life. We figured it out; 36 years of racing, he's been on the sidelines because of injuries for about 7 years. And he's still won 4,000."

Brandon has been at the track when Randy got in an accident before, recalling in particular an incident at Sportsman's Park when he was a young kid.

"I don't know what he broke then, but we were watching right in front of the jocks' room," Brandon said. "He went down at the top of the lane, and I just remember me, my mom, and my sister running down there. That scared me a lot."

But Brandon said Randy's day-to-day riding never worried him - only the accidents themselves and their immediate aftermath. Despite the physical toll riding had exacted on Randy, Brandon had it in his head to follow in his footsteps. Just before Brandon was to start his riding career at Gulfstream Park, early in 2008, he went down when a horse he was galloping had a heart attack. Knocked out cold, Brandon woke up at the hospital not knowing what had happened. Two months later, an undeterred Brandon launched his career at Arlington Park.

"You know it's coming at some point," Brandon said of his first serious fall. "You know there's that factor. It's not if or how bad - it's happening."

More intensely still, no one knows better than Randy what Brandon risks every time he gets a leg up for a race.

"In that one way, he's my son, and I've watched him through his accidents," Randy said. "But every one of those guys that I've rode with, all those jockeys, they're my friends and family. I've always wanted to see everybody come home safe. A lot of those guys I've rode with for years, it'd be like losing a brother. I know what I lived through, and I always knew I could get hurt. I knew he could get hurt. But I love what I do. I love racing. And it has been so awesome racing with him. If I don't ever ride again, I've been one of the luckiest guys in the world racing with him."

Yes, there's the inevitable question. Will Meier attempt still another return to the saddle? The doctor told Randy that physically, yes, he'll probably be able to ride after several months of recovery.

"He said to me, too, 'How many times are you going to push the line?' " Randy said.

While Randy was talking, he and Brandon were riding together again - driving in a car to do some Christmas shopping. Randy has always loved Christmas.

"Maybe this one is even more special," he said.