12/31/2014 3:57PM

Hovdey: Learning to walk again - and other tales of 2014

Barbara D. Livingston
By year's end, trainer Larry Jones had recovered from a head injury that threatened to prevent him from galloping horses.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and all that New Year’s jazz? Maybe, but for a writer it’s hard to outrun what has been committed to print, digitally or otherwise. And so, in the spirit of mopping up the memorable residue of 2014, here are a few stones this reporter tossed into the communal pool over the past dozen months.

For some reason I felt obliged to begin the year extolling the obvious virtues of Game On Dude and hoping against hope that his 2013 record of winning five major main-track stakes in succession would be enough to nudge voters off their Wise Dan dime. No such luck, but at least The Dude had one last, spectacular roll in the 2014 Santa Anita Handicap, after which the sun began to set on a truly remarkable career. By early October, Game On Dude was prowling his very own paddock at Old Friends Equine in Kentucky, a living testimony to the fact that modern Thoroughbreds can be made of iron, too.

Hello PETA! Oh how racing had missed you. With the New York Times bestowing legitimacy, the self-described abolitionist organization was back in a big way in March with its inflammatory highlight reel from an undercover sting aimed at the Steve Asmussen operation. Assistant trainer Scott Blasi lost his job, then got it back. Stable star Untapable went on to win the Kentucky Oaks and then later the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Lessons learned? I suggested back then the sport should look to the example of the documentary “Blackfish” and its compelling indictment of orca care and trainer safety at SeaWorld’s marine parks. By the end of 2014, the value of the company’s share price had fallen by 45 percent and the SeaWorld CEO had resigned under pressure. The worse news? According to the New York Post, PETA bought shares in the company in order to present a resolution that would free all the killer whales in SeaWorld captivity. Compared to “Blackfish” the PETA racing video was a crude home movie. But they will be back.

On a cleaner note, with springtime came the opening of “50 to 1,” producer, director, and horse owner Jim Wilson’s passion project of Mine That Bird’s improbable victory in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. I called it, “…a friendly, entertaining telling of a unique sports story…” without fear of replacing Andrew O’Hehir at Salon.com any time soon. The movie did slightly more than a million at the box office (I contributed my $7.50 at a matinee), somewhat less than the $332 million banked by “Guardians of the Galaxy” but more respectable when compared with the $2.1 million done by “Anchorman 2,” which didn’t even cover Will Farrell’s hand sanitizer.

Horse racing lost Aaron Jones, Jack Robbins, Sandy Lovato, Doug Byars, and Cigar, among others, leaving holes we won’t bother to fill. Perhaps it’s better to dwell upon the near-misses, just to keep things in balance.

Anne Von Rosen, journeyman rider and all-around top hand, lost the use of her legs last March when the Quarter Horse she was riding at Turf Paradise stumbled and fell. Von Rosen, 42, vowed she would walk again, even if it took a miracle. That was Von Rosen returning to Turf Paradise in November being wheeled to the winner’s circle and then helped to her feet, where she stood with the support of a walker, beaming at friends and fans.

Then there was Larry Jones, trainer of Hard Spun, Eight Belles, and Havre de Grace, who suffered a head injury and assorted minor trauma when a 2-year-old threw a wing-ding underneath him at Delaware Park in May. Jones was out cold for a day and a half and dizzy for more than a month, not to mention frustrated and depressed at the prospect of never being able to climb aboard his beloved Thoroughbreds again. At least that’s how he sounded when I spoke with him soon after the accident.

“After about five weeks I looked at my pony and thought I was going to ride him one day,” Jones said from New Orleans, where he is currently training at Fair Grounds. “But I chickened out. That night I got to thinking about it. I’d never been afraid to get on a horse in my life.

“That’s when God told me, ‘Larry, you don’t remember anything about that fall, do you?’ ” Jones said. “I did not. He said, ‘Fear not.’ So now do I just have faith in God? He’s just protected me from that fall, but I’m wondering if he’s getting tired protecting me or what.

“The next day I got on that pony,” Jones said. “And I promise you, I hadn’t gone a hundred yards and the dizziness quit. I thought, ‘I’m back to normal,’ but an hour after I got off the pony the dizziness would start up again. I know now why physical therapy on horseback helps all those handicapped people.”

Jones, who calls himself close to fully recovered, has been back to galloping some of his horses for several months and is sitting on a barn full of runners with high hopes for 2015.

“I’m pretty grateful,” he said. “At one time there it looked like I might not have made it to a new year.”