05/17/2016 7:00AM

Diego Sanchez, paralyzed in May 6 spill at Emerald, slated to begin rehabilitation


SEATTLE – Jockey Diego R. Sanchez, who was paralyzed in a spill at Emerald Downs on May 6, remains hospitalized Monday in stable condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Jeff Brown, Sanchez’s agent, said Sanchez suffered extensive spinal cord damage, including two fractured vertebrae, in addition to broken ribs, a broken left clavicle and a collapsed lung, after his mount, Agate Beach, appeared to clip heels and fell near the three-eighths pole in the third race May 6.

Sanchez, 26, was air-lifted to Harborview after the spill and underwent more than eight hours of surgery the following day.

“He’s paralyzed from the chest down,” Brown said. “It was a bad injury. He was really scared; here was a kid who didn’t know if he was going to live or die. When it happened – I don’t know if I’ve fully taken it in yet. But he tells me, ‘It’s going to be okay, I’m okay.’ He’s an amazing young man.”

Sanchez spent more than a week in intensive care before being transferred to Harborview’s trauma recovery unit. He was scheduled to begin an arduous rehabilitation process later this week.

Cassidy Burg, Sanchez’s girlfriend and an aspiring jockey in Northern California, said Sanchez has made slow but steady progress both physically and emotionally.

“He’s getting a little better every day,” Burg said. “The doctors have been talking to us a quite a bit, and he knows the extent of his injuries. We don’t know what the future holds. There’s hope for a recovery, but we’re being practical. The spinal cord injury is going to be a long-term process. Diego has been very aware throughout the entire process.”

A native of Mexico, Sanchez has 138 career victories, according to Equibase, and was 3 for 23 in 2016. In 2015, his first season at Emerald Downs, Sanchez finished 12th in the jockey standings and ended the meeting with a September spill that resulted in injuries to his back and wrist.

Brown said doors were just starting to open wide for the affable Sanchez at Emerald Downs.

“Doris Harwood had given him my first two calls, and we were going to work some horse for her the next day. That was huge,” Brown said. “I had guys coming up from Arizona who he was going to ride for. He’d won a couple the previous week. He was just getting ready to take off.”

Sanchez’s friends created a page at GoFundMe.com to help offset his medical costs. As of late Monday, $17,901 had been donated. Officials at Emerald Downs also reached out, paying airfares for Burg to travel from Golden Gate Fields, and for Sanchez’s parents to join him from their home in Mexico.

“He’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever met,” Burg said. “He’s been handing it as well as can be expected. He really appreciates all the support he’s been getting. He just wants to make sure I tell everyone, ‘Thank you.’”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated when Sanchez was injured in a 2015 spill at Emerald Downs. It was September, not July.