03/14/2014 2:45PM

Jay Hovdey: Paralyzed jockey Von Rosen won't give in to negativity


The last time Troy Bainum felt this bad was on a cold night at Hollywood Park in December 2004 when he watched helplessly as his stable star, Black Bart, tried to stand on a fatally shattered hind leg sustained while running in the Native Diver Handicap.

“He couldn’t put any weight on it,” Bainum said at the time. “There was no support from the ankle down. There was nothing you could do but give him a big hug and a kiss, and then go cry for about three days.”

It seems like a lifetime ago, especially since Bainum shut down his Turf Paradise barn in the spring 2009 and went to work as a jockey’s agent. The first rider he picked up was Anne Von Rosen, a hustling journeyman in her mid-30s with a reputation for hard work and relentless good cheer, and they did well together – right up to the moment last Tuesday at Turf Paradise when Von Rosen suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury after riding the first race on the card.

Panchita Bonita, a 5-year-old Quarter Horse mare, apparently was exhausted after finishing second in the 400-yard event, stumbled badly pulling up, then fell and pinned Von Rosen beneath her.

Von Rosen, 42, needed seven hours of emergency surgery to deal with the initial trauma of leaking spinal fluid, then two days later she underwent another surgical procedure to stabilize the spine. Her legs remain paralyzed.

“On top of everything else she broke her neck, but at least she won’t need surgery for that,” Bainum said.

On Friday morning Bainum was just leaving his house to head for Von Rosen’s bedside. He figured he would not be alone.

“Everybody likes Annie,” Bainum said. “Here’s a girl who’s at the barn at 4:30 every morning, galloping for Mike Chambers, getting on 12 or 15 a day. Then she goes out and rides five or six in the afternoon.”

On the day she went down, Von Rosen was sixth in the standings at the long Turf Paradise meet that ends May 3. She was named on seven horses last Tuesday – six Thoroughbreds and Panchita Bonita.

“I pretty much cried for two days after this happened,” Bainum said. “I’d find myself driving down the street and just break out crying. What turned the corner for me was yesterday afternoon. She was acting like her normal self, wearing a big smile. She realizes what’s going on and accepts what happened. But she’s not going to crawl into a hole and turn out the light.”

Jockeys rarely bother with questions like, “Why him? Why her? Why me?” They roll loaded dice every time they throw a leg over a saddle. Sandi Gann, who rode Black Bart and was Turf Paradise champion at the 1991-92 season, once fractured her left femur when her horse spooked and flipped in the winner’s circle there.

“I rode against Anne quite a bit,” said Gann, now an assistant trainer based at Santa Anita. “No matter what she was riding, she’d come out with a positive attitude and give it a hundred percent.”

Denial is a key component of a jockey’s psyche, although the dread of paralysis always lurks nearby. Gann was at the height of her career when she fractured a vertebra in her neck at Fairplex Park in September 1992.

“That came awful close,” Gann said. “But I don’t think I would have been paralyzed. I would have been gone.”

Darrell Haire, a national representative of the Jockeys’ Guild and a former rider, was monitoring Von Rosen’s condition and planned to be on the scene in Phoenix this weekend. Von Rosen is not only a member of the Guild, she is one of the official Guild representatives for the Arizona riding colony.

“I was there just a couple of weeks ago with Anne, going over the conditions in the women’s jockey room that need attention,” Haire said. “She’s a real special, stand-up kind of person. It’s just so tragic.”

Von Rosen, a native of Germany, was late coming to a riding career. To date, she had won 666 races from just less than 5,000 mounts.

“What helps is that she’s a real health freak,” Troy Bainum noted. “She’s not one of those jocks who has to flip, so her body’s not depleted. And she’s in great physical shape, just a 108-pound ball of muscle.

“I’ve had so many phone calls of support,” Bainum added. “She’s been overwhelmed at the number of people who cared about her and want to do what they can to help.”

There is a fund already set up through Race Track Chaplaincy of America to raise money for Von Rosen’s medical challenges ahead, with donations routed to the RTCA office at Turf Paradise. The track itself provides an insurance policy for jockeys capped at $500,000, the bare minimum in terms of industry standards. At some point, the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund probably will be called upon to assist.

In the meantime, there are reports that specialists are already at work using stem-cell treatments in hopes of repairing Von Rosen’s damaged spine. The technology is still a longshot, but worth a try. “She’s very upbeat, very positive,” Bainum said. “She says she’s going to beat this thing and walk again.”

Which is exactly what Sandi Gann expected to hear. “I’m not going to say she won’t walk again,” Gann said. “If anyone could, it would be Anne.”