02/20/2011 3:18PM

Gulfstream jockeys unhappy with system for transporting injured riders

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - In the wake of Friday’s accident that has left jockey Eibar Coa seriously injured and the meet’s leading rider Paco Lopez sidelined indefinitely, the Gulfstream Park jockey colony has voiced its concerns over the manner in which injured riders are transported to local hospitals.     

Jockey guild representatives John Velazquez and Javier Castellano claimed it took at least 20 minutes for Lopez to be picked up by a City of Hallandale Beach ambulance and transported to Memorial Regional Hospital in nearby Hollywood after he fell while attempting to pull up Precious Lady following the conclusion of Friday’s sixth race.

Gulfstream Park employs two paramedic staffed ambulances from a private company, AMR, to be on site for each racing program. Those crews are permitted to treat and stabilize injured riders on track property but are not licensed by the city to transport patients off the grounds to area hospitals.      

When Coa and Lopez went down on Friday, track officials claimed they followed procedure and made several calls to the city of Hallandale Beach’s 911 emergency lines asking for additional ambulances to be dispatched to the track while AMR’s crews attended to both riders. 

According to track officials, the first City of Hallandale Beach ambulance arrived within three to five minutes to pick up the more severely injured Coa to transport him to Memorial Regional. But the second vehicle reportedly did not reach Lopez for at least 15 to 20 minutes while the injured jockey suffered in pain and the AMR crew denied all pleas to drive him immediately to the hospital for fear of violating city ordinances.

Terry Meyocks, National Director of the Jockeys' Guild, was at the track Friday when the frightening incident occurred.

“The entire process by which injured jockeys are transported to the hospital needs to be reviewed. We [the Jockeys' Guild] and Gulfstream management are in total agreement on this point,” said Meyocks. “Whatever rules and regulations are currently in place, they need to be changed. The safety of not only the jockeys but anybody else who might be injured whether it be trainers, grooms, or hot walkers, is what’s paramount. The first half hour is so critical when dealing with traumatic injuries, especially of the nature suffered by Coa here Friday, and the only thing that really matters is getting these people to the best hospital as quickly as possible.”

A contentious meeting, attended by Meyocks, several riders, track officials and two representatives of the City of Hallandale Fire and Rescue Squad, including Fire Chief Dan Sullivan, who oversees the city’s rescue team, was held Saturday morning at Gulfstream.  Track officials and Sullivan disagreed vehemently over the manner in which the 911 calls were made to the city’s emergency center in the critical minutes following Friday’s mishap.     

Gulfstream president Steve Calabro repeatedly suggested to Sullivan that the best and most efficient solution to the problem would be for the city to license AMR crews to transport injured riders to the hospital themselves in life-threatening situations rather than have to waste crucial time before transferring patients from their vehicles to city-owned ambulances. Sullivan firmly disagreed, stating his crews were far better equipped and trained to handle patients, especially under traumatic situations.

“I’d have to vote against that idea if it comes up,” said Sullivan. “If it was my brother or son who fell off a horse and was severely injured, I’d want my people to be the ones treating them and transporting them to the hospital. If procedures are followed properly, I can have one of my vehicles on site within three minutes of a 911 call being received. ”

Tim Ritvo, a former rider himself and now vice president of racing operations at Gulfstream, empathized with the jockeys over the current situation.

“It’s just unfortunate that politics have to come into play in life and death situations such as the one we faced here on Friday,” said Ritvo. “It’s all about the unions and protecting city jobs. That’s why we can’t get the city to give us a certificate to allow our private ambulances licensed to go off the grounds.”

Ritvo said it would cost the track twice the amount it pays AMR to hire a City of Hallandale Fire and Rescue vehicle to be on the grounds each racing day.

“Besides the added cost, the city ambulances would not be allowed to follow the jockeys around while the races are being run as the AMR crews currently do,” said Ritvo. “So even if we paid the city to sit here all afternoon, an injured rider would still have to be transferred from one vehicle to another before being transported to the hospital, which in a traumatic case such as Coa’s could even be life threatening. The bottom line is that the system is broken and needs to be fixed immediately.”