09/04/2009 11:00PM

Jockey subs for injured brother


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Ten days after his identical twin brother, Michael Straight, was paralyzed in a one-horse accident here at Arlington Park, apprentice rider Matthew Straight rode in the fourth race at Arlington on Saturday, his first mount since Michael Straight's injury. Straight piloted More Than Able, a horse his twin had ridden four times in a row, to a third-place finish in a claiming race on turf.

Matthew Straight had never ridden an Arlington race before Saturday, and was based at Ellis Park before coming to Chicago after his brother's accident. He has worked a few horses here in the morning, and rode Saturday as part of a national effort to raise money for Michael Straight and the Straight family. Members of the family were at Arlington on Saturday afternoon. Jockeys around the country were asked to donate one mount fee from Saturday to the Don MacBeth Memorial Fund.

The Straights, 23, both graduated from Chris McCarron's North American Racing Academy after being raised in upstate New York. The Straight family had no connection to racing, and the Straights came to be jockeys on their own. Despite the dire present circumstances, Matthew Straight came off More Than Able smiling, and said a few minutes after the race that he planned to push on with his career.

"One of the worst things that could happen did happen to my brother," Straight said. "You know what you sign up for when you do this."

Michael Straight is the second rider to have suffered life-threatening and life-altering injuries in a race this meet. Rene Douglas, who moved to a hospital in Florida in recent weeks, remains paralyzed in his lower body after going down in the Arlington Matron. Straight said Douglas and his wife had "reached out" to his family after Michael's accident.

Straight was hurt in the last race on Aug. 26, when his mount, Im No Gentleman, clipped heels and fell before the quarter pole in a low-level maiden claimer. Straight had put Im No Gentleman into a drive past the three-furlong pole, and his horse fell at a point on the track that is difficult to see well from any camera angle. There had been speculation that Im No Gentleman, who died, might have collapsed from a heart attack or a seizure, but a necropsy done on the horse found that he had perished from a broken neck.

Straight suffered the same kind of impact injury, hurting his head and spine upon hitting the Arlington Polytrack. He underwent back surgery at Lutheran General Hospital in nearby Park Ridge shortly after the spill, and Matthew Straight said his brother had shown significant improvement over the last week. Straight has been taken off all the drugs that were used to induce a coma, and is nearly ready to start breathing on his own.

"Mike is completely off the sedatives, and the doctors are expecting to remove the ventilator today or tomorrow," Straight said in a statement released earlier Saturday. "Once he's able to communicate with us, it will make everything a lot better."