04/20/2011 2:00PM

Emerald Downs: Frazier's comeback following head injury will take longer than expected


AUBURN, Wash. – Jockey Ricky Frazier, sidelined since October after suffering severe injuries in a head-to-head collision with a horse, is months away from a return to the saddle and could miss the entire Emerald Downs meeting.

Frazier, 46, said he has yet to gain clearance from doctors to resume anything other than light workouts, a surprising turn of events following news last week that he was making progress toward a May 1 return. The Emerald meeting opened last Friday and runs through Sept. 25.

“I’m trying to avoid the negative, but it’s very frustrating,” Frazier said Wednesday from his family home in Hot Springs, Ark. “I fractured my skull, but the worst thing was, the back part of my brain got injured. I feel healthy, but it’s one of those injuries where … It’s very hard to understand.

“They say at least three months before I’m able to ride, and that’s very optimistic.”

Frazier, the leading rider at Emerald Downs in five of the past seven seasons, was injured Oct. 17 on the final day of the Big Fresno Fair meeting in Fresno, Calif. After winning the $53,950 Bull Dog Stakes aboard Quindici Man earlier on the card, and with his fourth consecutive Fresno riding title wrapped up, Frazier said he was riding high as he jumped aboard his mount for the next-to-last race of the meeting.

“The horse had a habit of being a problem child in the post parade,” he said. “They normally would have had a pony person come and get the horse and bring him out to the track, but my pony didn’t show up, or was late, whatever, and my horse just froze up when we stepped onto the track. He pulled me down, and as he did that, he threw his head with all his weight back at me, fracturing my skull on the left side and throwing me. The damage to my brain must have been done when I landed. I was knocked out.”

“You get as high as you can be, winning the stakes, and then two races later, I’m knocked into oblivion.”

Frazier dealt with ringing headaches, dizziness, and disorientation over the following days before regaining his bearings. He made plans to start riding again by Thanksgiving, all of which changed after he saw a neurologist in Hot Springs.

“I was working out, super lightheaded, disoriented, and I was confused about it. I just thought I was losing my fitness,” he said. “Like a lot of people, I’m very ignorant of the brain. My doctor slowed me down and scared me … I can’t withstand another major injury before it heals.”

“The most frustrating thing was the past couple of months. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t lift 10 pounds, do any exercise at all. I couldn’t mow the yard. I’m kind of over that part now. And I felt fine, I felt like I could go run a marathon, and I wanted to. I wanted to get fit.”

“To ride, I’m going to need some sort of an okay from my doctors, that I’m not going to do permanent damage. That’s my main thing.”

With Frazier ailing, trainers at Emerald have lined up other riders for their best horses. Doris Harwood enlisted Gallyn Mitchell to ride Noosa Beach on Friday in his 2011 debut at Hastings, and confirmed that Mitchell will be her stable star’s regular pilot for the balance of the summer. Frazier steered Noosa Beach to a track-record five stakes victories in 2010, including a 1 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile.

Meanwhile, Frazier will play a waiting game. In the next couple of weeks, he will travel to San Diego to visit his son Dylan, head north to Seattle to check in with his friends at Emerald Downs, and then return to Arkansas to continue his rehab. He has taken a year off before – when he was Tobey Maguire’s stunt double in the filming of “Seabiscuit” – but never under a doctor’s orders. He said he will be back; he doesn’t know when.

“When I broke my ankle, just crushed it, they told me I’d never ride again,” he said. “I fired two doctors to get back to riding. But this is something different. I’m not smart enough to tell a doctor about my brain.”