By Kevin Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer
A muddy track and cold weather, common during Turfway Park's winter racing season, did not cause the three-horse spill that left a jockey fighting for his life, track officials said Friday.
Jockey Michael Rowland, 41, remained in critical condition Friday at University Hospital with head injuries sustained when he was thrown from his horse and trampled during the seventh race Wednesday night at the Florence track.
"Through repeated efforts on our part to review footage, (the incident) is entirely related to the fracture of a front leg by the horse," Turfway Park President Robert Elliston said.
"We had run six races that evening without major incident. The surface, while muddy, was firm and level. Our assessment is the track had no involvement in the spill whatsoever."
Track officials are examining details of the spill and have spoken with other jockeys, horsemen and stewards who were at the track Wednesday.
It is unclear whether the newly formed Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, which met for the first time Thursday, will also look into the accident.
"At this point I don't know how involved the authority will become in those matters," said Jesse Skees, interim executive director of the authority.
The practice of racing during the winter months and in colder climates is not uncommon.
Turfway Park is the only major Kentucky race track to hold a winter/spring meet. Its winter schedule begins in December and ends in early April before Keeneland opens in Lexington.
Keeneland holds spring and fall meets that last three weeks each in early April and early October. Louisville's Churchill Downs has a spring meet that runs from late April to early July and a fall meet from late October until late November.
Turfway Park is one of 21 racetracks in the U.S. that holds racing during the winter months. Eight of those tracks, including Turfway, are located in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.
Dr. Larry Bramlage, an equine orthopedic surgeon at the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, said horses can handle even the most extreme conditions.
"Cold weather doesn't affect horses at all. They like it," Bramlage said. "They actually like cold weather better than hot. They're capable of standing in the snow continuously and it doesn't bother them."
It was 32 degrees around the time of Wednesday's spill, according to the National Weather Service. A 10 mph wind from the east made it feel like 24 degrees.
Turfway Park's dirt racing surface is comprised of materials designed to withstand freezing.
"When it gets to a certain level of temperature or of a certain level of moisture that makes the safety of the racetrack concerning to us, we shut the racetrack down," Elliston said.
Jockeys and trainers can also decline to race if they feel conditions are unsafe.
Broken leg causes spill
The seventh race Wednesday, a claiming race for 4-year-olds and up, started at 8:06 p.m.
Rowland, who is two wins shy of 4,000 in his career, was leading the seven-horse field when World Trade broke one of its front legs and fell to the dirt, unseating Rowland as the rest of the field passed by.
Witnesses said the jockey was kicked once and possibly twice in the head, and lay motionless until emergency personnel arrived soon after and airlifted him to University Hospital.
A second jockey, Mark T. Johnston, suffered a broken collarbone. He was released from University Hospital on Thursday. A third jockey, Jessica Endres, was treated at the track for bruises.
Live races were canceled Thursday at Turfway Park out of concern for Rowland's condition, but racing resumed Friday evening.
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has been in contact with Turfway Park officials and is offering assistance.
"The entire industry feels that when something like this happens, and because Turfway is a member of (the association), we're there in every way to help them in whatever way we can, whether it's advice or other help," association spokesman Eric Wing said.
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