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Jockeys face danger every race

July 25, 1999

Larry DupuyBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photos: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - When Larry Dupuy's horse hurled him to the ground at 30 mph during a four-horse spill at Charles Town Races July 17, the experience was nothing new for the veteran jockey.

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After 28 years of riding thoroughbreds, Dupuy has had more spills and broken more bones than he cares to remember.

"It's something you shouldn't dwell on. If you're thinking about getting hurt, then you're not thinking about riding," Dupuy said.

Dupuy was one of four jockeys who went down July 17 when a horse broke its leg near the quarter pole while racing near the rail.

The rider of the horse that triggered the spill, Rick Ruhge, bruised his leg in the accident while Dupuy ended up with a stiff neck. A third rider, Walter Cullum, broke three toes in the fall and the fourth jockey was able to keep racing that night.

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While the injuries could have been much worse, the spill was a reminder for the jockeys in the club house of the risks they take every time they go out for a race.

Two days after the four-horse spill, veteran jockey Orlando Moreno was hospitalized with facial injuries after he fell from his horse in the third race at Charles Town.

Horse raceAlso last week, apprentice rider Salomon Salguero was knocked out of racing for 10 weeks when he took a spill during a morning race, Charles Town Races spokesman Frank Carulli said.

The recent rash of spills is an unfortunate part of racing, jockey Todd Dupuis said.

The 19-year veteran speaks from experience.

After five years of spill-free racing, Dupuis saw a painful end to that streak last September.

Over the next five months, Dupuis fractured nine bones, punctured a lung, sprained his neck and had three compressed vertebrae in his back.

"It just goes in spurts," Dupuis said.

Fellow jockey Lenworth Kirlew is in the midst of one of those spurts.

A June 1998 spill left Kirlew with injured discs in his neck and the beginnings of neck problems that only worsened.

"Sometimes it felt like a load of electricity hitting me," Kirlew said.

After reinjuring his neck in February, Kirlew is back racing but doesn't preoccupy himself with thoughts about the next spill.

"If you can't adjust your mind, you're going to have a problem. You're going to run scared," Kirlew said.

While it is impossible to predict what will happen to a 114 lb. jockey when a 1,000 lb. thoroughbred takes a spill at full speed, Dupuy said helmets and a padded safety vest can cut absorb some of the shock of a fall.

Those safety measures aside, riders must still contend with the dangers of a falling horse hitting or landing on them.

"I've broken my back, my neck and my collarbone. The biggest worry is paralysis," Dupuy said.

The most extreme spills can mean death for a rider.

Jimmy Thornton and Charles Hinojosa were killed in 1994 and 1985, respectively, in races at Charles Town, jockey's room Manager Dennis Kirk said.

Specially designed safety rails and an on-site ambulance crew help minimize the impact of spills, but they make the sport any less dangerous, Kirk said.

"The rider hits the ground at 30 mph and you don't know where the horse is going," he said.

The inherent dangers of horse racing will not drive him from his boyhood dream of being a jockey, Dupuis said.

"If I die doing this, then I'll die happy."

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