Exercise rider 'lucky to be alive' Beck leaves hospital after gate accident

April 03, 1993|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Staff Writer

A weak, tired and very fortunate Richard Clayton Beck walked out of Sinai Hospital yesterday and said: "I don't know if it's sunk in yet how lucky I am to be alive."

Beck, an exercise rider at Pimlico Race Course, was injured Thursday morning when a charge of electricity swept through the starting gate during a rainy training session.

Beck's horse, a 3-year-old colt named Fox Brush, died instantly when hit by the electricity from a smoking cord that was hanging on the gate, witnesses said. Beck was trying to get the horse out of the gate by opening the back door, and he was injured by the electricity as soon as he touched the door.

Martin Jacobs, executive vice president and general counsel for Pimlico, represented the track yesterday in a telephone conversation with Eugene Feinblatt, an attorney for Fox Brush owner S. Bonsal White.

White, who said he has made no decision about any legal action, said last night he had not talked to Feinblatt about the conversation.

White said the "ball is in their court," in reference to a settlement with Pimlico officials.

"It's obvious the horse has some value and there are other considerations," said the owner. "It's inconceivable, the sloppiness at the gate. It's almost criminal negligence."

Fox Brush was scheduled to run in a $25,000 claiming race at Pimlico yesterday. A son of 1986 Triple Crown contender Broad Brush, Fox Brush had won $4,400 in five starts.

Joe De Francis, president and chief executive officer for Pimlico, said: "I can't imagine there's much to dispute. I hope it's taken care of in a short time. It's just a matter of settling with the insurance companies.

It was a tragic accident and extremely unfortunate and we're doing everything we can to make it right."

Jim Mango, general manager of Pimlico, said the electrical problem with the starting gate has been repaired. The gate involved in the accident is a backup gate used for horses in training.

"We installed a ground fault current interrupter outlet in the starting gate trailer which supplies power to the cable," Mango said. "Thank God the rider is OK and hopefully something like this will never happen again."

A screaming Beck was pulled from the gate by veteran starting-gate worker Danny Fitchette, who has been credited with saving the rider's life.

"My whole body was shaking," said Beck. "It seemed like it was 15 to 20 seconds before Danny got me off but it might have been only three. I had no concept of time then. All I know is it was as long as it took Danny to get from the front to the back of the gate."

Beck, 36, said he was released from the hospital after tests showed he didn't have any heart, muscle or kidney damage at this time.

"It's one of those things where something could show up later," Beck said.

Beck said he didn't know Fox Brush had been electrocuted until he grabbed the gate.

"When he first went down, I thought he was trying to go underneath the gate," Beck said. "He [Fox Brush] started to get back up and then went down again and didn't move. My legs were trapped but I worked free and climbed into the open stall next to mine, handed the reins to Danny and Scott [Hewitt, another gate worker] and went behind the gate. At that time, I was just thinking about getting the horse out."

In spite of the trauma, Beck said last night he will be back at the track today and will go back into the starting gate on a horse in the near future.

The rider called it "an accident that should not have happened" but declined to comment further.

"I just want to get myself together," said Beck. "I want to say hi to all my friends and let them know I'm OK. I don't want to do anything irrational. I don't want my temper or emotion to guide me."

Fox Brush trainer Dick Small has been outspoken about the accident, saying that track officials aren't responding to horsemen's pleas for more attention to details in the maintenance of Pimlico and Laurel.

"It's unbelievable," Small said. "A horse is dead and a rider escaped serious injury and it's like business as usual around here. They got off their butts and finally picked the cord off the ground but they left it in the rain last night."

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