09/27/2010 3:57PM

Zia community honors fallen jockey


Members of the racing community gathered Sunday at Zia Park in Hobbs, N.M., to remember the jockey Mark Anthony Villa, 44, who died in a racing accident Saturday.

Mike Kelley, Villa's agent, said the jockey colony gathered at the winner's circle for a prayer. The first race was run in silence in Villa's memory.

"It was a beautiful service," Kelley said. "Everybody was there. It's hard to believe how quickly people can come together."
Villa died from injuries sustained in Saturday's seventh race, a trial for the Hobbs America Quarter Horse Futurity. His mount, Separate Money, ran second then broke down just after the wire and threw Villa to the ground. Villa was hit by an oncoming horse and died immediately from a broken neck, according to his mother-in-law, Debi Ferguson.

"When he went off the horse, he was okay," she said. "He was crawling from his own mount, and another horse went over the top of him. The horse grazed his helmet, and knocked it off, and of course, when it knocked it off, the helmet being attached by the chin strap, his neck [was] broken."

Ferguson said Villa was born in Tucson, Ariz. She noted he rode in a number of different states in his career, including Arizona, where he was a multiple title winner, California, Idaho, Kentucky, and New Mexico.

"He rode all over," she said. "He was riding when he was 16."

Villa is survived by his wife, Krystal, and 6-year-old twins, Olivia and Garrett. An account to help the family with expenses is being set up through Compass Bank. Another fund has been set up for Villa's family through the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack Chaplaincy.

Ferguson said the funeral service for Villa will be held at 1 p.m. Oct. 6 in Phoenix, at the Deer Valley LDS Stake Center at 2939 W. Rose Garden Lane. The night before, a viewing will start at 7 p.m. at the Shadow Mountain Mortuary at 2350 East Greenway Rd., in Phoenix.

Villa won 1,726 races from 13,843 starts in his career, for mount earnings of $17,360,253. Of his wins, 1,076 were with Thoroughbreds, and the rest came aboard Quarter Horses and other breeds. He was the fifth-leading rider last year at Zia Park and second in the Thoroughbred standings this past summer at Ruidoso Downs.

Among his biggest wins were the Grade 1 Ruidoso Quarter Horse Derby in 2009 with eventual champion Time For a Cigar.

"We got along so good," said Kelley. "He was so easy to work for because he was a workaholic. He made my job easy."

Villa is the fourth jockey to be killed in a track-related accident nationally since 2006, according to statistics from the Jockeys' Guild. Mark Pace was the last rider to die, in an Oct. 18, 2009, spill at Blue Ribbon Downs in Oklahoma. Before him, Juan Campos was killed on Aug. 23, 2008, at the Downs at Albuquerque in New Mexico, and Sam Thompson on Dec. 20, 2008, at Los Alamitos in California.