Veteran jockey Rick Wilson, who ranks 20th among jockeys in all-time wins, suffered severe head injuries yesterday when his mount in the second race at Pimlico Race Course stumbled out of the starting gate and tossed him head over heels to the ground.
Wilson, 50, was in critical condition last night at Maryland Shock Trauma Center after being transported from the track by MedEvac helicopter. His agent, John Salzman Jr., said doctors were still conducting tests to determine the extent of the injuries.
Wilson's mount, Advance to Go, inadvertently kicked Wilson in the head after unseating him. Wilson, who lives in Sykesville, lay motionless in the dirt as the horses raced around the track.
The 1 1/16-mile race started in front of the grandstand, and horses would have had to cross that spot to reach the finish line. Outriders on their ponies and members of the starting-gate crew waved their arms for the jockeys on the other four horses to pull up around the final turn. The race was declared "no contest," and wagers were refunded.
Gregg McCarron is a former jockey who trained one of the horses in the race. He said horses frequently stumble out of the gate, and jockeys sometimes fall off.
"That happens not daily, but close to it," McCarron said. "So I took my eyes off Rick. I'm watching my horse and glancing back at Rick. I keep thinking, `They haven't moved him yet. They haven't moved him yet. They haven't moved him yet.' You go from watching your horse to, `There's something bad wrong here.' "
Wilson is a fierce competitor who has suffered numerous broken bones: neck, back, collarbone, both shoulders, ribs, elbow, right femur, left leg (twice), both ankles and a foot.
He has a plate in his neck, pins in his collarbone and a rod in his right thigh, from hip to knee. The rod was inserted after Wilson broke his femur in a vicious spill Oct. 12, 2001, at Pimlico. Doctors operated three times to get the rod right. Wilson missed 54 weeks of riding.
When he returned, he was asked whether he had considered quitting.
"Never crossed my mind," Wilson said. "I guess you might as well say I'm a nut. I love it. I love riding."
Said McCarron: "He's a huge competitor. He's just got that fire in his belly. He's one of those jockeys who isn't the most polished rider, but horses flat run for him. He's won a gazillion races."
Since riding in his first thoroughbred race in 1972, Wilson has won 4,939 races Even though he rode in two Kentucky Derbys and five Preaknesses, Wilson considers Xtra Heat, the sprinting filly, the best horse he has ridden.