04/10/2013 12:33PM

Jay Hovdey: Scott accepts latest serious injury without remorse

Shigeki Kikkawa
At age 54, Joy Scott realizes her most recent serious riding mishap is career-ending.

If the measure of a person’s worth can be taken in those moments of darkest fortune, then put a star by Joy Scott’s name. Last weekend, her room in the rehab wing of Pasadena’s Huntington Memorial Hospital was filled to near overflowing with flowers, plants, balloons, cards, and a virtual menagerie of stuffed animals, tokens of tribute from the worried members of the racetrack community.

Scott was propped up in bed, framed by dangling bags of high-powered antibiotics and intravenous fluids. The upper part of her well-muscled right arm was rigged with an IV tube snaked into a vein leading straight to her heart. Her right leg was hidden deep inside layers of wound dressing and a pressurized splint. In anticipation of a visit she had just applied a light touch of mascara.

“Might as well try to look a little better,” Scott said.

When she was brought to the hospital on the morning of March 12, that right leg could not have looked worse. This was the same right leg that was butchered in January 2001 in a fall at Los Alamitos, in which Scott fractured both bones below the knee. The tibia required a titanium rod for repair, while the fibula was rendered “non-union” and left to float. Fourteen months later Scott was back in the saddle, galloping horses at Santa Anita.

Scott has been riding all manner of racehorses since 1981, so it is probably best to let her describe what happened on March 12 when she was launched from a young horse she was on for trainer Eric Guillot. Typical of Scott, the last thing she blames is the horse.

“It was a beautiful colt,” Scott said. “He was really quiet going out, but then something happened behind him and caused him to explode, as 2-year-olds will do. He’s so big and athletic that when he bucked he really cut loose. When you come off like that you can get lucky, or you can hit the rail, or you can get stepped on. I got stepped on.

“I went up over his head and then down underneath him, still holding the reins,” she went on. “I could see his legs as he crushed my knee. I was in the fetal position, screaming, and the bone above the knee broke through my jeans. It was right in my face. Can you imagine – right through my jeans.”

There are cleaner places to sustain a compound fracture than the ground around a racetrack stable, and far more sanitary weapons than the foot of a Thoroughbred horse. As a result, the repair of Scott’s shattered knee and splintered femur was delayed more than a week by the threat of severe infection.

“In trying to put my knee back together they tried to ‘nail’ it to the femur, but there was not enough there to hang onto, and the knee rotated,” Scott explained. “So a few days later they operated again, put more screws in there, and this time used washers to try to jimmy it together.”

In addition, the constant threat of infection required several more surgeries to open and debride the wound of necrotic tissue, accompanied by an array of antibiotics Scott described as “chemo strength.”

“As a jockey, it feels so good to feel so healthy and so strong,” she said. “To have to do this to my body, to burn it up with all these powerful but necessary antibiotics, that’s very hard.”

Scott is 54. She has ridden just shy of 500 winners from about 6,600 Thoroughbred mounts, including 5 wins from 63 tries this year. From the outside, such raw statistics describe a marginal player in a dangerous game, taking risks for little reward. But there are more people around the racetrack like Scott than not. Her stubborn willingness to keep showing up earned her a modest income, especially when she was winning races with Arabians at the Los Alamitos bullring, while at the big show she attached herself to small Thoroughbred stables running chronic longshots, then often outrode their odds.

Along the way Scott managed to raise a son, Jesse Sanchez, as a single working mother in a very different kind of job. Young Jesse was a familiar sight around the racetrack from the time he was a toddler. When he went off to college, Scott would be pestered for updates. Sanchez is 25 now, and there is no measure for the pride with which Scott describes the work he does for a non-profit educational organization based in New York.

“He travels around the country to colleges recruiting students who have had learning disabilities,” Scott said. “Then he puts those older students together with younger students with the same kind of disabilities, so that they can see how far they can go.”

When Scott went down March 12 word spread quickly. She has been racetrack “family” for so long that Southern California would not look the same without her. Visitors flocked to her bedside. A fund was set up through Winners Foundation for her support. And from his home in New York, her son rode to his mother’s rescue.

“He was here every day for almost a month,” Scott said. “He dropped everything in his own life and slept right there in that chair. He was my advocate in everything that happened here. He took care of my correspondence, my banking, my dog. In the middle of all this I had to move out of where I was living, so he rounded up a bunch of security guards from the track to put my stuff in storage.”

Scott has sustained most of the injuries jockeys and exercise riders expect as part of the job. As she puts it, “No one is exempt.” After the 2001 accident, however, in her heart of hearts she knew she had run out of recoveries. Now she is facing a long haul just to get that right leg underneath her again.

“It really was lavish of me to be able to keep riding at my age, especially after the last injury,” she said. “I did it because I loved it. My expenses were down, my son was raised and taking care of himself. So it was sort of extravagant in some ways.

“I get the message,” Scott said. “I just wish it had been a little simpler of a break. On the other hand, I didn’t get my head smashed and it wasn’t my spine.

“Best of all,” she added, “I felt like I had the whole racetrack rallying for me. That’s the greatest feeling in the world.”