Run for the Roses ran. Bank accounts reviewed. Remedies and/or celebrations coming to an end. The winner of the Derby this year was the aptly named “I’ll Have Another”, and the last party of the 2012 season for winning jockey Mario Guiterrez and friends was at the "Night of… One Race, One Winner, One Party" held at The Galt House on the evening of Derby Day, Saturday, May 5th.
Presented by the Galt House Hotel and benefiting the Permanently Disabled Jockey’s Fund (PDJF), the party began with passed hors d'oeuvres, limitless top shelf libations and more jockeys than I had ever seen assembled in one room.
“Before the PDJF started,” President Nancy LaSala explained, “Only guild jockeys who had been injured could expect a stipend of $200-$250 per month.” Nancy, whose husband is a 30-year veteran jockey of Arlington in Illinois, Jerry LaSala, are passionate about not only helping those who need assistance, but simply doing what they decided was decent. “In 2006 we fought to do what’s right. It was not a jockey problem, it was an industry problem and the PDJF was created to not just heighten awareness of disabled jockeys, but to raise funds to assist with their healthcare and living expenses.”
It wasn’t hard to spot the jockeys for obvious reasons, but that is like saying it wasn’t hard to spot the ladies who were hired to be serving tables wherein you ate off their dresses-as tables stations (actual tables, no models were ate upon to my knowledge). It was really hard to miss, however, the jockey’s who were in attendance via wheelchair who were disabled before the PDJF was created in 2006.
There was a silent auction featuring one-of-a-kind chance to bid on Kentucky Derby memorabilia. That included a jockey boot signed by the jockeys riding in the 138th Kentucky Derby, jerseys, art, sports memorabilia, trips to Fiji, but the item topping the list pre-auction was an autographed guitar and autographed Red Solo Cup from Toby Keith's light-hearted song "Red Solo Cup" is a top ten country hit and a YouTube favorite. My personal resources being different, I’d have bid on the all-expense paid trip to the 2012 Olympics in London, the fossilized mammoth bracelets, or even the Beatles lithographs or any of the hundreds of sports memorabilia that LaSala hoped would top the $60,000 which the party raised last year. “Our goal this year is $100,000,” she remarked. “Of course we make the majority of funds from the ticket sales, but ultimately it’s not the price, it’s about doing what is right.”
The highlight of my evening was the jockeys past and present on stage together. All of them, including it’s most recent Derby winner Mario Guiterrez with trainer Doug O’Nail, smiling from ear-to-ear, Hall-of-Famers like Pat Day, Ron Turcotte (Triple Crown Winner on Secretariat), and 2011 Kentucky Derby winner John Velasquez took a moment to pose for the camera in what can only be considered the Thoroughbred of all class reunion pictures. Respect and admiration radiated from both the stage and the crowd.
During the photo opportunity the Galt House’s Mary Ann Moseley, long time supporter of the PDJF was honored with a boot signed by all the jockeys who had run that day and introduced my favorite sparkplug of the evening, Mrs. Penny Chenery, the owner of Secretariat, who assisted by a walker took command of the microphone, stage and crowd by beginning her remarks with “I’m so pleased to be up here with all these good looking gentlemen.” Grinning with pride, she then made her moment even more important to all those present by presenting a wheelchair-bound Turcotte with a ring that represented River Ridge on one side and Secretariat on the opposite. “I love you guys, and being here, I think you should tell your owners to step up – one disabled owner to the group!” I have never met Penny personally, but fell in love with her ability to mix laughter and passion for jockeys and the sport of horse racing.
Closing remarks were made and hugs were plenty while the song “Camptown Ladies” slowly played as the jockey’s and friends exited the stage. The point made by the humble yet winning jockey, Mario Gutierrez, who on his first Kentucky Derby ride had not only won but entered into a brotherhood, “I really cant put this into words…thank you. This will stay with me the rest of my life. Thank you again.” His excitement was fantastically sincere.
Ever have an experience wherein you say “I am so tired- I’m glad that is over.” Then a few weeks if not moments later look forward to doing it again? That’s the true Kentucky Derby experience and the last party of the weekend was just prologue to next year when we do it all over again.
Champion jockey Gutierrez, who my not have had the time to comprehend that it was his signature what would be auctioned off next year was right - we conclude the 2012 Kentucky Derby season with kind words, fond memories, (hopefully few regrets), great friends, and begin the planning of Derby season 2013 which starts…now. I'm looking forward to another I'll Have Another next year already.
(Photo: Kit & Hope Helton)
The Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF) is a 501(c)(3) public charity that provides financial assistance to some 60 former jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries. Since its founding in 2006, the fund has disbursed over $3 million to permanently disabled jockeys, most of whom have sustained paralysis or brain injuries.
Many of the jockeys we serve were injured while in their 20s and 30s and face decades of living with a disability. They have lost their income and the opportunity to build a financial cushion sufficient to support them and their families.
The medical needs of our disabled jockeys are great and may include daily assistance from a caregiver. In today's healthcare environment, costs continue to escalate -- posing still more challenges to individuals who courageously test their limits every day.
The PDJF strives to reach out to everyone in the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse industry, their business partners and the great fans of this sport for their support. Our long-term goal is to create an endowment that will enable the fund to be self-sufficient. While we build that endowment we ask for your support so that we may continue to assist these permanently disabled jockeys with their day-to-day needs.