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Injured Jockeys Fund Formed


It is, inarguably, one of the most beautiful sports there is. It is an ancient sport, having begun with the first steeplechase in Ireland in 1752, commemorated for all time by a brass plaque on the wall of St. Mary’s church, Doneraile. It is also one of the most dangerous for the participants, both horse and rider–a part of what makes it so fascinating.

Photography by Tod Marks

Steeplechase races were originally run cross country on horseback over whatever came in the riders’ way, including fences, stone walls, ditches, creeks, streams, and even chicken coops. It began when one Irishman dared another to race their horses to “that steeple over yonder,” church steeples then being the most outstanding features of the landscape.

Nowadays, in order to make the sport a little bit safer (and saner), the races are held in designated places with fenced-off runs.

The jumps are all sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association, that is, built to a design that gives way relatively easily under the pressure of falling bodies. Peter McGivney, the NSA’s General Manager, says the jumps have a steel frame covered by a foam rubber roll, which is covered by plastic brush. Those staging the races make every effort to ensure that the courses are safe, the jumps designed for as much safety as possible, and the necessary medical and veterinarian services available if needed.

Still, you have thousand-pound Thoroughbred racehorses running all out in a group, going over fences and across streams at about 35 miles an hour, and danger is omnipresent. And, since the horses, like all athletes, must be trained to do what they do, accidents can occur then, too. That is where the recently formed American Steeplechase Injured Jockeys’ Fund comes in. If a jockey is injured in a fall during an NSA-sanctioned race, the NSA has a fund that will help out. Explains McGivney, “The NSA administers a fund that was begun in 1953 by three people then prominent in the sport who wanted to set up a charitable trust to assist those in need in the sport.

“Called the Steeplechase Fund, it assists those in need in our community.” He adds that the fund helps out with living expenses and other needs in the community which includes trainers, assistants, grooms and other stable help as well as exercise riders and jockeys. So the fund exists not just to help injured jockeys but others as well.

McGivney goes on to explain that jockeys riding in NSA races are required to have health insurance, and that the organization has a secondary policy with premiums covered by jockeys and owners. Jockeys pay $5 a race and owners $10, and that pays for a policy that will cover whatever the jockey’s own insurance doesn’t. The secondary policy does have a disability clause that would cover living expenses when a jockey is laid up with an injury and can’t ride. So if a jockey is injured in a fall during a race, he or she has less to worry about financially.

If, however, jockeys were injured during a point-to-point event or while training horses, there was no fund to assist them until recently. And, as jockey Robbie Walsh explains, “A lot of the younger lads just starting out have to ride the point-to-points and ride exercises for the trainers to make a name for themselves and to get mounts for the steeplechases.” He also makes the point that many of them cannot afford the high cost of healthcare, so many are uninsured–a recipe for disaster. Walsh says it will be increasingly difficult to attract young riders to the sport if they can’t make it financially, because every time they get hurt they are hit with medical bills that might take years to pay off.

Even if a jockey is insured, medical insurance has a way of not covering enough of the expenses incurred, leaving the rider worrying about how to pay the bills. If the jockey is riding in a point-to-point or just riding horses for a trainer and is injured, he or she now has something to fall back on. Called the American Steeplechase Injured Jockeys Fund, it was Robbie Walsh’s brainchild.

Injured himself and the beneficiary of successful fundraising by the community, Walsh donated the leftover money, once he recovered and was back riding, to start the fund.

When asked why steeplechase jockeys don’t belong to the Jockeys Guild, an industry group for jockeys riding in flat races and which has a fund for injured jockeys, Matt McCarron, a leading steeplechase rider for many years, says, “We’d just be a headache for them.”

McCarron, vice president of the board governing the new fund, is enthusiastic. “It’s the first time jockeys have done something for themselves,” he says. Support for the fund is now growing among the active jockeys: Darren Nagle and Jody Petty, after sharing the winning jockey award at the Radnor meet in spring 2013, announced they were donating the prize money of $1,500 to the Injured Jockeys Fund. The jockeys have been joined in the fundraising efforts by contributions from trainers and owners, as well as from companies that do business with the community.

Clearly, however, more needs to be done to raise awareness (and cash) for the fund. Kathy Rubin, who has taken over the job of publicity and fundraising for the organization, came up with the idea of T-shirts emblazoned with great photographs of the races. She also dreamed up a Chester County T with all the silks of stables racing in the area. Then, she says, “I get the jockeys to come into the tent at the meets and autograph the T’s for people. Some of the jockeys are kind of shy, but I am getting them to get over that and come and meet and greet people and help their own cause, and they’re getting very good at it.”

Any fund needs to land somewhere and also needs to be accounted for, so Gregg Ryan, a former steeplechase jockey himself and now head of Lee and Mason Financial in Virginia, stepped up. “We simply administer the fund at no cost,” Ryan explains. His firm does the accounting and dispensing of the fund.

He is so optimistic about the fund and its future that he envisions a day when the fund will have the capacity to finance after-racing education for retiring jockeys who need another career option. At the present time its current role of assisting injured jockeys in meeting their expenses is all it can handle.

To make a donation, send a check to: American Steeplechase Injured Jockeys Fund, P.O. Box 270, Northville, NY 12134. Your contribution is fully tax deductible as ASIJF is a 501(c)3.

Purchase a T-Shirt to Benefit the Jockeys at Winterthur, Willowdale, or Radnor.

To see all of the available T-shirt designs, go here and click on photos ~
$20 short sleeve, $25 long sleeve and totes $25. Email kathy.rubin@yahoo.com to place an order.

The American Steeplechase Injured Jockeys Fund would like to thank KC Culp of the Whip and Josh Taylor at Midlantic, LTD. for the idea and artwork behind The Racing Silks of Chester County T-Shirts and posters, which are available at The Whip Tavern.

The Horse Comes First in American Steeplechasing

  •  American Steeplechasing, governed by the National Steeplechase Association, places the highest priority on the health and well-being of its horses and human athletes. Racehorse safety is a key component of industry integrity.
  •  American Steeplechasing is a relatively small sport, and its owners, trainers, caretakers, and jockeys have a close relationship with the horses. They care deeply about their horses and do their very best to protect their interests.
  •  Most steeplechase competitors are based in the country, train in the country, and benefit from the country environment.
  •  Races are not conducted for profit. Funds are raised to stage the races and to pay race purses, and proceeds are donated to charity. As a whole, race meets raise millions of dollars each year for charity.
  •  The National Steeplechase Association employs a safety director, an experienced horseman who regularly inspects courses for suitability. Jockeys are instructed to ride for safety and to protect the interests of their mounts, other horses, and their fellow jockeys.
  •  All race meets are required to have equine ambulances with attending veterinarians on course at all time during the races.
  •  Race meets are required to have medical ambulances with trained emergency personnel available at all times during the races.