02/05/2007 1:00AM

Jockeys refuse to ride over hospital concerns


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - After the second gruesome spill in three days at Aqueduct, the jockeys refused to ride the final four races of Saturday's card. Further, management decided to cancel Sunday's card. Neither decision, however, was based on the condition of the racetrack.

The jockeys are upset with the care they have received at nearby Jamaica Hospital, which is the closest trauma center to the track. Norberto Arroyo Jr., one of two riders involved in Saturday's spill, pleaded with Emergency Medical Services personnel to take him to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., about 25 minutes away. He was told no, and transported by ambulance to Jamaica Hospital - which is only 10 minutes away.

Arroyo had a contusion over his left eye and was complaining of pain in his left shoulder. He was treated and released at 6:30 p.m. with no major injuries.

According to Tony Durante, Aqueduct's Emergency Medical Services supervisor, it is part of the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council of New York Organization rules that riders must be taken to the nearest trauma center.

"Even though these guys think they're okay and feel they're okay, we don't know that, so better that we err on the side of caution than to just assume they're okay and transport them longer distances when in fact they may have injuries we don't know about," said Durante, who has worked at Aqueduct for 23 years.

Arroyo was aboard Cadillac Cruiser, the even-money favorite, who broke down while leading the fifth-race field around the clubhouse turn in the 1 1/16-mile race. Cadillac Cruiser suffered a broken right foreleg and was euthanized. Another horse, Jimmy O, ridden by Eddie Martin Jr., fell over Cadillac Cruiser. Jimmy O sustained a broken neck in the spill and died instantly. Martin, one of three jockeys involved in Thursday's spill, appeared to escape this one uninjured as well.

Jose Santos was the most seriously injured rider in Thursday's spill, which involved three horses and three riders. Santos was taken to Jamaica Hospital, but neither he nor his wife, Rita, was happy with the care Santos received. Santos checked himself out of Jamaica on Friday night and was transferred to North Shore, where his injuries were deemed to be worse than first diagnosed at Jamaica.

Though the initial diagnosis showed two compressed vertebrae and two cracked ribs that were expected to keep Santos out four to six weeks, Santos is now believed to have two cracked vertebrae and a broken breastbone and will miss a minimum of four to five months, according to Rita Santos.

"We'll know more with the MRI whether he will need surgery," she said. "The last thing they want to do is surgery, but because of the pieces in that area they want to completely rule it out. It's not completely ruled out."

Ramon Dominguez was also injured in that spill, suffering a swollen right knee that will keep him out two weeks.

On Saturday morning, the Aqueduct jockeys met with track management and track doctors to ask that, beginning Saturday, in the event of a spill, they can be brought to North Shore.

"Procedure was, if it's life-threatening or anything like that we'd be taken to Jamaica,'' jockey Mike Luzzi said. "What determines life-threatening is none of our opinions, we're not professional doctors. Evidently, Norberto was asking to be taken to North Shore and was told he's going to Jamaica Hospital. We as a group feel there needs to be a better procedure in place. We all want to ride, we all want to race, but at the same time we want the best care we can get. Evidently, it's not at Jamaica Hospital."

Bill Nader, NYRA's senior vice president, accompanied Arroyo to Jamaica Hospital and said he was satisfied with the job hospital personnel did in attending to Arroyo.

"I told Luzzi if there was a spill I would go with the jockey and see it first-hand rather than listen to reports," Nader said. "I'm not disputing what Rita said, but what I've seen today has been highly professional and outstanding care, and hopefully this will be the beginning of a repaired relationship between Jamaica Hospital and the Aqueduct jockey colony."

According to Nader, the decision to cancel Sunday's card was a combination of this issue and a weather forecast that called for brutally cold temperatures. The $65,000 Correction Handicap, scheduled for Sunday, has been rescheduled for next Sunday.