05/26/2017 2:06PM

Hovdey: Van Dyke looks to put it back together again


Gary Stevens had a few of the gang over not long ago for a good old-fashioned mudbug boil in the backyard of his home near Santa Anita. Kent Desormeaux and Jamie Theriot were there, lending Louisiana cred to the mass consumption of tasty crawfish, along with Mike Smith, who brought the wine, and Drayden Van Dyke, a young man who doesn’t mind hanging with his elders.

The conversation bounced around, from the state of the EU to the latest exhibition of Italian art at the Getty, and finally landed squarely on Van Dyke’s right arm, which displayed the dramatic evidence of his accident at Santa Anita last Jan. 26.

“They were impressed,” Van Dyke said. “They said none of them had a scar like mine. And it is pretty nasty, about six or seven inches long on the inside of my forearm.”

Welcome to the club, better known as Brothers in Blood.

It would take the rest of this column and most of the following page to catalog the litany of damage sustained by just the four veteran riders mentioned above. Theriot, who is approaching 2,500 winners, most recently cracked three vertebrae in August 2013. Desormeaux lost the hearing in one ear when trampled years ago at Hollywood Park. Smith’s back is a minor miracle after his terrible accident at Saratoga in 1998, while Stevens could fill a medical journal with his list of injuries and repair, including replacements of both a hip and a knee.

“Have you ever seen Mike’s left forearm?” Van Dyke said. “He showed me how he broke it in a similar spot to mine, and he can’t twist it all the way. That’s kind of where mine is right now. But with the advancements in surgery and rehab, I’ll be able to get full range of motion.”

Van Dyke was hurt when the filly he was riding, Tawny, broke her left front ankle and then her right foreleg while leading their field into the stretch on the main track. Van Dyke remembers nothing after hitting the ground, but there is evidence that he was struck by a trailing horse hard enough to dent his helmet and inflict a compound fracture upon his arm.

“I went back and looked at the video of the race,” Van Dyke said, his voice lowered at the recollection. “Jeez. I mean, I was very, very lucky.”

Two metal plates and the attendant screws were required to repair the fractures.

“The doctor says for me to plan on wearing those plates forever,” Van Dyke said.

This is not unusual. Enter any jocks’ room in the land, and you probably could light the place up with a metal detector. Few professions have advanced the science of orthopedic surgery with such a reliable supply of patients.

For every positive outcome from severe trauma – Rajiv Maragh comes immediately to mind – another rider hits the deck and gets up considerably worse for the experience, most recently the top young Mid-Atlantic talent Trevor McCarthy, who sustained a broken finger and dislocated shoulder last Sunday at Monmouth Park.

Van Dyke did not spend much time at the races during his recovery.

“I was pretty sour at first,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to the track when I couldn’t do what I love to do. Guys told me not to pay attention to the horses I’d been riding, but it was hard not to. I did go out to the Santa Anita Derby to watch Battle of Midway. I was on him when he broke his maiden. We thought he could be a Kentucky Derby horse, and he made it.”

Flavien Prat ended up aboard the colt, who finished third at Churchill Downs.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Van Dyke said. “I was happy for Flavien. But I couldn’t help thinking it could have been me.”

For Van Dyke, the bad news of the injury and its agonizing aftermath is ancient history. The good news is that he plans to test his arm on horseback within the next week or so.

“I’ve been in the gym a lot,” Van Dyke said. “I’ve been running up the mountain with weights. I’ve got an Equicizer in my home, and even when I had my cast, I would get on it and bounce up and down to keep my legs as fit as I could.

“When I got the cast off and started physical therapy, I could barely move my wrist,” he said. “It was so painful, I broke into a sweat. There was a lot of scar tissue that needed to be broken up, but I’ve been working on that, and it’s almost back to normal.”

Van Dyke’s plan is to find a couple of horses to breeze, then hope his doctor gives him an official release to resume riding after a June 6 examination.

“Mike Smith told me I will be surprised how good I’ll feel right away,” the rider said.

The challenge for any jockey returning from an injury is reclaiming lost business. But Van Dyke is 22, a former Eclipse Award winner as an apprentice, and in demand by top barns. Remember what it was like to be 22? A broken forearm is a long way from the heart.

“Am I itching to get back?” Van Dyke replied when asked. “You bet. I’m itching like I’m covered with poison ivy.”