05/25/2009 12:00AM

Douglas could be paralyzed after spill


CHICAGO - Jockey Rene Douglas could be paralyzed from the waist down because of a back injury sustained in a spill Saturday at Arlington Park.

Douglas, 42, underwent seven hours of back surgery Sunday morning at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago, from 2:30 to 9:30, according to his agent, Dennis Cooper. Douglas had not awoken from anesthesia as of 2 p.m. Central time Sunday afternoon, but Dr. Hilton Gordon, Douglas's regular doctor, told Cooper that Douglas appeared to be paralyzed in his lower body.

"He told me straight up they don't think he'll walk again," Cooper said. "He'll be able to use his upper-body. Still, no matter good or bad today, it'll be 10 days to two weeks before they'll know for sure. I wouldn't bet against him."

Cooper said Douglas was expected to remain in intensive care for two weeks before being moved from a trauma unit to a nearby rehabilitation center.

Douglas likely suffered compressions of the fifth and sixth vertebrae in his back. Compressed vertebrae can damage the spinal cord, causing temporary or permanent nerve damage that affects the use of muscles. Saturday night, a doctor told Cooper that Douglas might have a bone splinter lodged in his spinal cord. Douglas also sustained neck injuries and several broken ribs.

Douglas was conscious and able to speak before being sedated Saturday night. He came out of sedation to see his wife before going into surgery. Not long after the spill, Douglas had feeling in his feet, but there were concerns about paralysis all along.

Douglas went down at the top of the Arlington homestretch while riding Born to Be in the Arlington Matron. Racing just in behind the lead pack, Born to Be appeared to be running evenly when she turned into the stretch. She was about two paths off the rail when jockey Jamie Theriot on rail-skimming Sky Mom swung out and tried to go through a hole between Born to Be and eventual winner Euphony. Sky Mom bumped Born to Be, who was pushed out and clipped heels with tiring pace-setter Boudoir. Born to Be completely lost her footing, fell, and flipped over, rolling onto Douglas, who remained pinned beneath the horse until being extricated by track personnel.

Born to Be, who shipped in from Woodbine for trainer Eric Coatrieux, was badly injured and had to be euthanized, according to Arlington officials Sunday.

Douglas is a native of Panama City, Panama, and came to the United States in 1983. He won the 1996 Belmont Stakes on Editor s Note for trainer Wayne Lukas, and at times has ridden regularly in New York, California, Kentucky, and Illinois. Douglas came to Arlington in 2001 and immediately won the riding title. He was leading rider four years in a row before summering in California in 2006. He quickly regained his position atop the Arlington jockey colony upon returning to Chicago in 2007 and 2008.