Updated on 07/07/2012 11:16AM

Pleasanton: Jockey Herrera dies of head injuries following spill

Alameda County Fair
Jockey Jorge Herrera died of head injuries following a Thursday riding accident at Pleasanton.

Flags flew at half staff and there was a moment of silence preceding the national anthem at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, Calif., on Friday, a day after jockey Jorge Herrera, 33, was killed in a racing accident there.

Herrera’s death was the first at Pleasanton since Juan Gonzalez, exactly 37 years earlier, on July 5, 1975.

Herrera, a native of Jalisco, Mexico, suffered massive head injuries when his mount, Morito clipped heels with Tribal Sun shortly after leaving the half-mile pole in the final race of the day, a five-furlong sprint for $5,000 maiden claimers. Morito stumbled, and Herrera was thrown over his head. There had been no official determination by Friday afternoon whether Morito died from the impact of the fall or was strucky by a horse.

The medical crew that trails the riders in an ambulance was on the scene immediately and was quickly joined by track physician Dr. Peter Wong. Herrera was rushed to the Eden Trauma Center in nearby Castro Valley but was pronounced dead about two hours after the spill.

Morito broke sharply in the five-furlong race but had dropped back to the middle of the pack between Devil On the Move and Tribal Sun when he came out slightly, clipping Tribal Sun’s heels.

Morito came out of the $5,000 maiden claiming race with scrapes, cuts and bumps and will undergo a further examination.

Herrera began his career in 2004 in a race at Los Alamitos, getting his first winner shortly thereafter at Portland Meadows in 2005. As an apprentice at Portland Meadows and Emerald Downs that year, Herrera won 31 races from 301 mounts. He went 23 for 198 at Emerald Downs after winning with eight of 103 mounts at Portland Meadows. His biggest year earnings-wise came in 2007 when he won 14 of 304 races and his mounts earned $198,977.

Herrera rode in California after losing his bug, working mornings as an exercise rider. He failed to place with any of his 12 mounts this year. He was 1 for 42 in 2011, scoring his lone victory aboard the Arabian Effie Estes at Fresno.

In all, he won 55 Thoroughbred races from 1,010 starts. For his career, counting all breeds, he scored 64 victories with 78 seconds and 74 thirds from 1,104 mounts that earned $735,168.

Jockeys’ Guild regional manager Darrell Haire told CNN, “He was a nice kid; everybody liked him. He didn’t get the opportunities that a lot of guys got.”

Haire said Herrera generally kept to himself and said he understood the jockey lived with an uncle in Southern California.

Herrera rode at Pleasanton from 2007-09 and returned to the track this year. He had four mounts, riding once on the Fourth of July and riding twice on Thursday.

“I knew of him, and he’d help me off and on,” said Morito’s trainer Jose Godinez. “He rode for me in the past.”

Debbie Winick, who gave Herrera his first mount at this year’s fair, said she did not know him well but liked him.

“He always came by wearing pretty chaps and a big smile on his face,” she said. “He was always happy but he was real quiet. He was the kind of guy who was always the first one here. He was a hard worker, but he wasn’t aggressive.”

Herrera was the 152nd jockey killed in a race since 1940, according to Terence Meyocks, national manager of the Jockeys’ Guild. There have been 11 fatalities since 2001, according to Meyocks, the most recent being Mark Villa, a rider of Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, at Zia Park in September 2010.

Herrera is the fourth rider killed in a racing accident in Northern California according to Jockeys’ Guild statistics.

The first two were Jack Robinson, killed at the Solano County Fair in Vallejo on June 20, 1973, when he tried to save another rider who was falling off his mount. Gonzalez died following a spill at Pleasanton. Lute Proctor was killed in a Quarter Horse race at Bay Meadows on June 15, 1991.

Both Robinson and Gonzalez will be honored at Pleasanton on Saturday with stakes races in their names.

Fair spokesman Dennis Miller said the fair was planning to name a race after Herrera on the Sunday card.

No funeral plans have been announced.