Jockey Killed in Accident at Fairgrounds in Pomona : Sports: He is trampled after horse breaks legs and falls. Death is first at Southland thoroughbred track since 1975.
J.C. Gonzalez, a promising young jockey, was trampled to death by horses Thursday in a spill at the Fairplex Park track on the opening day of horse racing at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona.
It was the first racing fatality in 61 years of racing at the fairgrounds, according to George Bradvica, operations and racing manager there. Gonzalez is the first thoroughbred jockey to die in a race at a Southern California track since Alvaro Pineda died at Santa Anita in 1975. Another death at the fairgrounds occurred in 1982 when jockey Burleigh Turetski was killed during a workout.
Gonzalez, 23, was pronounced dead of massive head trauma at the track’s first-aid station shortly after the accident. The rest of the day’s program of seven races was canceled, but no announcement was made to the crowd about Gonzalez’s death.
The crowd, estimated at 6,000, was shielded from seeing the aftermath of the spill by a three-foot hedge between the grandstand and the track.
Although spills in horse racing are not uncommon, deaths are, especially considering that among the Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Fairplex meets there are 272 thoroughbred racing days a year in Southern California.
John Giovanni, executive director of the Jockeys Guild, said from Lexington, Ky., that since 1960 in thoroughbred racing, jockey fatalities nationally in races have averaged two a year.
Gonzalez, the defending meet champion, was riding Wolfhunt, a 4-year-old colt, in the fifth race. The horse had completed one circuit of the five-furlong track, was leading in the 1 1/16-mile race and was heading for home on the far turn when both front legs snapped.
As Wolfhunt went down, Gonzalez was thrown to his right into the path of trailing horses. Another horse, Accomodator, ridden by veteran Danny Sorenson, tripped over Wolfhunt and also went down.
Sorenson, 41, scrambled for safety under the inner rail and escaped with minor injuries. After being treated, he returned to the jockeys room.
Track safety wasn’t an issue, according to Bradvica, who said Fairplex Park’s precautions are the same as those at other tracks.
“We use two ambulances for every race,” he said. “If one ambulance goes to the hospital, we don’t run another race until it comes back, or until we can get a replacement ambulance.”
However, after Gonzalez’s death there was a meeting that involved several Fairplex jockeys, including Sorenson, and the track’s three state stewards and Bradvica.
As an apprentice, Gonzalez rode 28 winners during last year’s 18-day fair meeting, finishing nine victories ahead of his nearest rival. The winning seemed to dry up after he finished his apprenticeship--and lost the accompanying weight advantage--last October. He had been riding this year primarily on the Northern California circuit.
He did ride locally occasionally, and was uninjured two weeks ago in a spill at Del Mar. In 1997, he broke his pelvis and left leg in a spill at Santa Anita.
Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Gonzalez had ridden in 1,476 races, winning 181 of them and riding horses that earned $4.1 million. This year, he had ridden 23 winners.
Almost two hours after the spill, Sorenson was still in tears, having heard Dr. Neal Archer say, “[Gonzalez] didn’t make it.”
Sorenson, dazed and uncertain about what he’d heard, said, “I don’t know if I heard you right.”
“I won’t lie to you,” Archer said. “He didn’t make it.”
Wolfhunt, who broke both forelegs, was euthanized. Accommodator got back on his feet and was not injured.
Vic Lipton, Gonzalez’s agent, was red-eyed from crying after he learned that his jockey had died.
“His girlfriend buried her brother today,” Lipton said, walking away without explaining.
Ricardo Jaime, another jockey in the fifth race, said he and Gonzalez had talked about the Fairplex season Thursday morning.
“I told him to be careful, because this track is smaller than others,” Jaime said.
Matt Garcia rode Royal Comando, who ran behind the leaders in the race.
“I went to the outside to avoid the [fallen horses],” Garcia said. “This is a part of the business that you don’t like to see. But you take chances in life, you take chances when you ride horses. J.C. was a good rider. I hope to God he’s in a better place.”
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.