01/19/2005 12:00AM

Gann takes bad luck in stride


ARCADIA, Calif. - Those concerned with advances in modern medicine will be reassured to know that Sandi Gann is continuing her exploration of the human body and its ability to recover from trauma.

Gann, 42, is a former leading jockey at Turf Paradise and one of only three women to win a stakes race at Hollywood Park. In a Thoroughbred career that began in 1987, she has won 1,061 races, primarily on the Arizona and Washington circuits. During the current Turf Paradise meet, Gann was tied for seventh in the standings as action began last Friday.

Then came the ninth race, a routine maiden claiming affair worth $4,500 in which Gann was aboard the firmly favored Sky Hoof Hearted (more on the name in a minute). They weren't exactly strangers, since Gann had ridden Sky Hoof Hearted in five of his last six races. Sky Hoof Hearted (please stop giggling) won by 4 1/2 lengths, like an 8-5 shot should.

Then the dangerous part commenced. For the first time in his nine-race career, "Sky" was doing something different after a race. He was going to the winner's circle, accompanied by all the rituals, which included the removal of his blinkers while the rider was still mounted.

"Somebody said that if I had finished second it wouldn't have happened," said Gann. "That's probably right. When they pulled the blinkers off to take the picture, he freaked out, just blew up, and threw me out the back."

Gann's left leg took the force of the impact, fracturing the upper part of the femur. The fracture point was located near a surgical break that was required as part of a procedure to repair a broken hip in 1997 after an accident at Lone Star Park.

"I had screws taken out of that bone just last summer," Gann said. "I suppose there might have still been some weak spots, although this fracture is not in the exact same place."

Gann had barely hit the ground last week when she knew exactly what had happened. An emergency medical attendant deferred to the fallen rider, informing a bystander, "Sandi ought to know."

Her litany of injuries is becoming impressive. Gann made a miracle recovery from a broken cervical vertebra suffered at Fairplex Park in 1992. In 1999, she required shoulder surgery for a torn rotator cuff. Last summer, she broke the tibia in her lower leg in a starting gate incident at Emerald Downs.

"That was my right leg," Gann said. "Maybe this will even up my limp."

Dark humor aside, Gann must now spend the next six to eight weeks waiting for the largest bone in her body to heal, then deal with the rehabilitation of supporting muscles and the reconditioning of her jockey body. All because she happened to win a race.

"You try not to beat yourself up over it, but it is frustrating," Gann said. "Compared to other things that have happened, it's not that traumatic. It's just that sometimes you think, 'Enough already.' But if you do, it's time to quit.

"What's really tough is having to prove yourself all over again when you come back," Gann added. "I'm lucky, though, because I've got some trainers and owners who have always supported me."

One of them is F.C. Frazier, trainer and part-owner of Sky Hoof Hearted.

"It's just terrible, what happened," said Frazier, who has been handling horses for most of his 74 years. "She's a class act, that kid. And she can really ride. She's my favorite jockey. This sure takes all the fun out of winning a horse race, I can tell you that."

Until last Friday, any appearance by Sky Hoof Hearted was a cause for great hilarity, mostly for the discomfort it caused Turf Paradise track announcer Luke Kruytbosch. Pranksters would call Kruytbosch during the post parade just to play joke noise machines into the telephone. More than one whoopee cushion was always at the ready.

As it turns out, it was Frazier's grandson, Skyler, who suggested the name Hoof Hearted. Boys will be boys. Young Skyler had no way of knowing he had tapped into an honorable tradition of trying to slip off-color names past the taste police at The Jockey Club. In fact, there was a horse named Hoof Hearted who ran up a record of 9 wins in 65 starts in the 1980's.

Kruytbosch even gave up one time and simply referred to Sky Hoof Hearted as "number five." Gann managed to laugh at the idea that she would get sent to the sidelines by horse with such a name.

"Can you believe it?" she said. "Luke would get to laughing before the horse even got to the gate. You would hear him say 'Sky . . . Hoof. . . Hearted,' real slow, he was trying so hard. I wasn't able to hear his call when he finally won the other day. But they said he was laughing."

Next time, if there's any justice, it will be Gann's turn to laugh.