Updated on 07/07/2012 12:16PM

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.

Stephanie Pujol More than 1 year ago
Rest in Peace Jockey Herrera. You will be missed in the industry. Condolences and Prayers for you and your family.
Michael Zeisler More than 1 year ago
Shame can beanevilgame at times
keith buck More than 1 year ago
An airbag , what are you nuts? What if you have a rider out in front and he falls off in front of everybody else, what is going to happen? Of course you know what is going to happen , he will be taking down other riders with him. What a stupid idea. I am a former jockey and this does not belong in racing. This is a tuff sport and dangerous. You know the possiblities what can happen on any given day.
Goldhybrid More than 1 year ago
It's been said that the jockey gets 50 bucks to ride a horse, with a chance at a cut from the purse. For what they do, I don't think I'd get on one of those animals for less than a couple hundred. You don't know what the horse's disposition is. A lot of times they're still green, even three and four year olds. These are the most underpaid athletes in all of sports. Another thing is, the tracks are all crying about how they need bigger field sizes. Why? Bigger fields mean more chaos, more danger. There's only 4 or 5 horses in any race that have any hope of winning. There should'nt be more than 7 or 8 horses in any race and I'd be happy if there were only 6. In the wake of Herrera's death, DelMar announces a limit in 2-year old race of 10 horse fields, 12 in stakes races. Have you seen the way the babies race? In my opinion, the tracks do very little minimize the danger to the jockey. I believe a jockey at Golden Gate was wearing a vest that behaves like an air bag when a rider is unseated from his horse. It was tethered to the mount and activated like a rip cord on a parachute. There should be an effort to provide these to every participant in a race. The tracks are spending more time trying to increase handle than preventing tragedies, to riders and horses. Also, it's apparent that synthetic tracks are safer. A lot of trainers are willing to say they are superior. Jockey Gary Stephens said he could have extended his career if he had ridden on synthetic tracks, explaining that the shock from dirt tracks is transmitted through the horse and absorbed by the rider. During the dirt meet at Santa Anita, the field sizes at Golden Gate increased noticeably. It's obvious that some trainers and owners are unwilling to run on the dirt. Who can blame them as breakdowns were common at Santa Anita. While mourning Herrera's death, how about the California Horse Racing Board taking some measures to reduce risk in the sport. While naming a stakes Race after the young man is an honor to his memory, why not change the sport in a positive way?
Goldhybrid More than 1 year ago
I found an article pertaining to the air bag vests. On DRF, search "air bag", with the quotation marks.
James Long More than 1 year ago
it alway amazes me how so many "exsperts come out of the wood work when something like this happens. although I have remorse for my fellow jockey and his family,he died doing what "HE" love doing. It not all about the $$$ but the passion of the sport.Yes it is danger in what we do ,but it is the LOVE of it that keep a joc a joc. So unless YOU ever ride a "Racehorse" don't mess with it .
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
I seen Frankie Pennington take spill the other day at Parx, I thought he would NEVER get up from and guess what? not only did he get up, he won the next race!! so it goes to show you, you never know when your time is up!! live every day to the fullest cause u never know.
Todd Brown More than 1 year ago
This is a very dangerous sport and things like this can happen anytime at any track to any rider. These great riders are very brave and skilled and put their lives on the line every day in the sport of kings. I pray that his soul will rest in peace and that God will take care of his family and get them through this. Maybe some good can come out of this awful situation and a future life can be saved by examining the reply of this race and try to figure out what went wrong.
Maria Kern More than 1 year ago
Sad news, so young to die so soon. May he rest in peace.
Goldhybrid More than 1 year ago
I hope he's not resting. I hope he's finding glory, that which is so elusive in our earthly existence.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
May the young man rest in peace now.
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Re--------Not withstanding Stakes races of course 10% down to lowest payout, 5% comes from track the other 5 if agent can collect from owner ! Few years ago GP Fla, BC classic (names escape) 2nd place $800K......Jock due (Garrett Gomez) $40 from owner, wouldn't pay it, said " I can claim a horse for $40K
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Bil.../ & Hannity.......NOPE , the riders don't share in the purses, 10% only for WIN mount fees 2nd thru last $40-100 depend on track, thats why the top 5 dominate