The worst spill at a Maryland racetrack this year occurred yesterday at the five-eighths pole at Laurel Park.
For several minutes, three horses and two jockeys were strewn on the dirt racing strip, resulting in the death of two of the thoroughbreds and a serious injury to jockey Alcibiades Cortez, who was in shock and suffering from a compound fracture to his right leg.
Cortez, 34, was airlifted to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where the former champion jockey in his native Panama was listed in serious but stable condition last night.
The horror on the back side of the track in the eighth race occurred after pacesetter Saga Girl snapped her right foreleg, fell in front of the field, rolled over and hurtled Cortez through the air "like a human cannonball," said another jockey, Mark Johnston, who narrowly avoided the accident.
"It happened so fast, I just remember that all of a sudden Al [Cortez] disappeared," Johnston said.
Larry Reynolds, on the previously undefeated filly Six Times, and Juan Umana, who had the mount on Vite Feet, weren't as lucky as Johnston.
Reynolds and Umana were directly behind Saga Girl. Six Times flipped over the fallen horse, throwing Reynolds, the track's second leading rider, clear of the melee. Reynolds immediately jumped to his feet but sustained a cut on his knee. He was able to ride in the 10th race, but complained afterward of a headache.
After Six Times fell, another filly, Vite Feet, somersaulted over Saga Girl and ended up in an equine pileup with Six Times. Umana, her jockey, also was flipped in the air and lay on the track for several minutes. He eventually got up, and although sore, had no serious injuries. Umana, however, canceled his mount in the 10th race.
Saga Girl rose from the heap, and with her broken leg dangling, hopped to the outside rail and collapsed. She was euthanized by track veterinarian David Zipf.
Her owner, Clyde Malthura, chairman of the psychology department at Coppin State College, was visibly upset. He had raised the horse, who had previously run creditably in the Grade III Columbia Stakes and the Maryland Million Distaff, from a foal. "I think I'm going to go home and have a good cry over this," Malthura said.
Saga Girl was the star of trainer Chester Moore's small stable at the Bowie Training Center and had won $42,976 in 12 starts. "This was going to be her last race this year," Moore said. "There was nothing wrong with her legs other than she bucked her shins [a common ailment] last winter. I saw her stumble in what might have been a bad place on the track."
Six Times, her nose bloody and her face covered in dirt, eventually staggered to her feet and jogged off the track. Jane Cartwright, wife of trainer Ron Cartwright, said the horse "had a bunch of nicks and was walking stiff," but otherwise was OK.
Vite Feet never got up. Zipf said the horse bled to death from internal injuries caused by the impact of the fall.
Until yesterday, the worst spill of the year had occurred at Laurel on June 15 in a steeplechase when three horses fell over three different hurdles. One jockey, Simon Hobson, was airlifted to a trauma center. One horse, Standish, died after his fall, but Hobson was not seriously injured and rode at Laurel in a jump race a week later.