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    Illustration by Kendall Regan

    There’s something about Dr. Bayard Rice — maybe the tortoiseshell glasses with lenses as round as bicycle tires or the facial features of a cute cherub in middle age — that makes him seem jolly, like a guy who doesn’t take himself or his surroundings too seriously, a guy who won’t judge a gal on Derby who comes waddling in with a broken high-heel shoe, chipped tooth, oozy knee and fancy fascinator slipping south or, say, a gentleman who arrives gift-wrapped in seersucker with bloodshot eyes, a pickled gut and a slippery grasp on sentence structure. Nope, Dr. Rice won’t tsk-tsk you. He’ll just treat you.

    For 20 years Rice has worked as Churchill Downs’ medical director. During live racing, he’s onsite to treat jockeys and patrons. (He also works for Norton Hospital.) Rice jokes that he took the gig at Churchill Downs as a way to spend time at the track without getting too much grief from his wife. On Derby Day, he’ll stay mostly at the first-aid station near the clubhouse but will also rotate between another station near the Derby Museum and a tent in the infield.

    After two decades, one might think Rice has a collection of horror stories, tales of gruesome jockey injuries. When asked, though, he shrugs. “Knock on wood, I think the most major thing I’ve had is a clavicular fracture,” he says. “It’s the exception that they go down (off a horse); it’s not the rule.” There have been plenty of bruises and sprains, a handful of concussions and teeth knocked out, left in the dirt. A few times he’s had to send a jockey to the hospital for something serious like a punctured lung. But for the most part, Rice says, jockeys shake it off. They can only make money if they race. “They’re really tough,” Rice says, adding that even when an ambulance delivers a wounded jockey to him, “a lot of them hop off the stretcher and go take a shower.”

    So Rice (along with the half-dozen physicians who assist him on Derby Day) spends the majority of his time with the unlucky folks who come to party and become patients. “Last year, there was a lot of gastrointestinal stuff — vomiting, dehydration,” he recalls. Occasionally, someone will moan of chest pains and get sent to Norton Audubon’s ER. But blistered, battered feet confined to (oftentimes brand-new) spiky, strappy heels demand most of Rice’s medical expertise. “We give out a lot — a lot — of Band-Aids,” he says.

    Derby and Oaks are long days. Usually he shows up at the track around 9:30 and won’t leave until 11 or 12 hours later. On the Wednesday before Derby, Rice dreads the weekend. But once at the track, he says, he loves it. It’s fun, funny. “So many of (the fans) come in just hammered,” he says, laughing. “I like it when someone comes in wearing an Elvis costume or whatever.”

    He’s had some memorable moments. Like the time an NBC sportscaster collapsed due to a seizure. Rice helped him out, and the broadcaster was back on air in no time. Here’s another story, from about five years ago, that still makes him chuckle: “I had one kid, it was Derby Day, and he had a (seat in a) nice box,” Rice says. “He came in and he had stayed up all night and he had had, I don’t know, 20 or 25 Red Bulls and all this vodka and he said he was not going to fall asleep and miss this Derby. Well, his blood pressure was about 200, his heart rate was about 150, and I said, ‘I’m sorry, you are going to miss this Derby. You’re going to the hospital.’”

    This originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

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