07/22/2011 12:34PM

Ellis jockey feels blessed just to ride again


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Nelson Arroyo takes nothing for granted anymore. He missed 14 months of riding racehorses when he was sidelined with multiple injuries, including shattered vertebrae, and today he considers himself fortunate just to be back as a participant.

“It’s been unbelievable to be able to come back and do what I love,” Arroyo said on a recent morning in the stable area at Churchill Downs. “I’ve never been hurt like that before. To be able to walk again, to give myself a bath, and now to be on top of a horse, it’s all a blessing.”

Arroyo, a 31-year-old Puerto Rico native who grew up in Boston and began riding in 2001, was moving up the rail in the stretch run of the eighth race April 20, 2010, at Indiana Downs in suburban Indianapolis when his mount, Cause and Effect, “just disappeared on me,” he said. The result was shattered vertebrae between his shoulder blades, a fractured neck, and three broken ribs.

For eight months, the pain was excruciating, he said.

“I underwent surgery at Methodist Hospital at Indianapolis and rehabilitation in a facility in Edgewood, Ky., and they all did a fantastic job with me,” said Arroyo, who has four children with his childhood sweetheart and wife, Madeline. “After about 12 months, the pain finally started to go away.”

Arroyo returned to riding at Indiana Downs on June 25 and has had four winners since then, including a double July 8. In recent weeks he has ridden sparingly at the Ellis Park meet in western Kentucky and will ride regularly at the Hoosier Park meet that begins Aug. 2.

“I’d like to ride for enough Kentucky horsemen so that maybe we can build up enough business to try to ride at Keeneland and Churchill, then go on to the Fair Grounds,” said Arroyo, who employs Brinda (sp. ok) Robbins as his agent. “My dream is to ride in the Kentucky Derby.”

For a jockey with 220 career wins, the Derby seems a faraway dream. Then again, the recovery he has made since suffering a potentially life-changing injury was little more than a dream during those agonizing months he was laid up.

“I feel very, very blessed and very happy,” Arroyo said.

Track holding scholarship raffle

Sunday is College Scholarship Day at Ellis in Henderson, Ky., with nine $1,000 scholarships being raffled off to registered students. Co-sponsored by the host track and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the scholarship program was started in 2000 at Ellis and has since given away nearly $400,000. Keeneland has been the biggest backer of the four main Kentucky tracks, and the next scholarship day is scheduled for the Keeneland fall meet in October.

Sundays also are dollar days at Ellis, with $1 specials on draft beer, soft drinks, and other concessions. The Kentucky division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is a co-sponsor of the dollar days.

No shortage of mounts for Rossi

Business has been brisk through the first 10 of 31 days of the Ellis meet for jockey Oriana Rossi, whose 51 mounts topped all riders going into Friday action. Rossi had won nine races, second to Corey Lanerie, who had 10 wins.

Rossi, a 28-year-old native of Italy, rode her first career winner at Ellis in August 2009. Into Friday, she had 107 career wins.

Ostrich and camel races return

The ever-popular ostrich and camel races are set for next Saturday at Ellis. Obviously, the races are for “recreational purposes only,” with no parimutuel wagering, and yet they tend to draw tremendous interest from the ontrack crowd, if only for their exotic intrigue.

No word yet whether Calvin Borel is accepting mounts. Borel, who is riding primarily at Ellis this summer, actually rode a camel and an ostrich in the 2009 races at Ellis, less than three months after he rode Mine That Bird to victory in the Kentucky Derby for the second of his three Derby wins.