Sheri Garcia, a 37-year-old exercise rider who was just days away from realizing a dream of becoming a professional jockey, was killed yesterday while galloping her horse at Pimlico Race Course.
Garcia, of Lancaster, Pa., suffered head injuries at about 7:30 a.m. when she struck a pole near the half-mile mark on the backstretch of the Northwest Baltimore track, said Charles Frock, a thoroughbred horse trainer who sometimes employed Garcia.
Garcia was taken by ambulance to Sinai Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 8:20 a.m., according to a hospital spokeswoman. Her husband, Michael, who is a horse trainer, was with her when she died.
Frock said Garcia was trying to rein in the horse, a 3-year-old filly named Will I Ever, when it became unruly and lunged to the outside of the track near the half-mile pole. Garcia hit the pole, and the horse fell and slid off the track.
"The girl had dreams about horses and everybody liked her," Frock said. "Her goal was to race at Pimlico."
Garcia recently had completed the licensing procedures to work as a jockey. She purchased Will I Ever and planned to ride the horse in what would have been the first professional race for both of them next week at Pimlico. The horse was treated for scrapes and returned to its stall.
"On behalf of all of us at the Maryland Jockey Club, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim," said Lou Raffetto, chief operating officer of the MJC, in a statement. "This is devastating news to everyone in the racing community."
Later in an interview, Raffetto noted: "It's not a profession without risk. The incident was terrible."
Training was suspended yesterday after the accident but is expected to resume this morning, said track spokesman Mike Gathagan.
Frock said Garcia began many of her workdays at 2:30 a.m., driving nearly two hours to Pimlico to pick up free-lance work as an exercise rider, then returning home to work for a family-owned cleaning company.
"She was a hard worker but she loved horses," he said. "She had a lot of heart."
Sun staff writer Greg Garland contributed to this article.