HALLANDALE, Fla. -- State steward Walter Blum says he will go to his bosses at the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering and ask them to consider mandating safety vests for all exercise riders.
This in the wake of two serious accidents Monday at Gulfstream Park, one of which left exercise rider Mary Rafferty, 41, in critical but stable conditon at Memorial Hospital in Hollywood with a broken back.
According to trainer Allen Jerkens as well as another reliable source, Rafferty, who was not wearing a safety vest when she was thrown from a filly who broke a front leg, is paralyzed from the waist down.
"People can do amazing things," Jerkens said, in reference to his hopes for Rafferty's recovery.
Also Monday, exercise rider Kelly Allen, who was on a horse trained by Butch Richards, was wearing a vest supplied by Richards when she was involved in a collison with a horse being exercised by jockey Donna Barton.
Allen sustained four broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung.
"I think it would have been a lot worse if I hadn't been wearing my safety vest," Allen said. "I hit the ground so hard. People definitely should wear their vests. I know mine helped."
Barton, who was not wearing a safety vest, said, "I was very blessed."
Most racing jurisdictions mandate safety vests (also called flak jackets) for jockeys during races. Because of Florida's unsettled racing legislation, that task in Florida has been taken up by individual tracks, all of which now require jockeys to wear vests. But there are no such rules at the three South Florida tracks for exercise riders.
"It would be great if everyone wore one," said Blum, a Hall of Fame jockey. "We already have a rule stating they have to wear helmets, so maybe we could do the same thing with vests."
Should state regulators decide it is out of their jurisdiction, Blum said he will go to management at the three South Florida tracks.
Doug Donn, president of Gulfstream Park, said he is eager to discuss the issue with Blum, although he is not certain what position he will take.
If Gulfstream mandates vests for all exercise riders and somebody without a vest were injured, Donn said, it could open the track up to a lawsuit.
"It would be a very difficult thing to enforce because the vest can be worn underneath clothing," Donn said. "And I don't understand why we would have to make a rule for riders to wear vests. If I'm an exercise rider, I'm wearing one, rule or not."