Parx jockey rep, doctor ask PHRC to mandate concussion protocol

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Nov. 28, 2018

A jockeys’ representative and medical doctor based at Parx Racing asked the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission Nov. 28 to make concussion protocol mandatory for riders at the state’s racetracks.

Anthony Black, President of the Parx Racing Jockey Association, and Dr. Brian Rizer, who has become a strong advocate for jockey health and welfare through his work at the track, made a presentation and then asked the PHRC to consider a rule similar to one that requires jockeys to get a physical before they are licensed. Commissioners voted to put the issue on the agenda for their Dec. 18 meeting.

Rizer and Black referenced the concussion protocol now in place in Maryland, where the Maryland Jockey Club and Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association fund a medical program led by MedStar physicians on all live racing days. Dr. Kelly Ryan, one of five doctors in the program, has taken the lead on concussion protocol and is working with other tracks to implement it.

Black, 67, who still rides sparingly and won a race in late October, said he can recall being diagnosed for concussion only one time—about five years ago—even though he “hit the ground several times” since he began riding in the early 1970s. He said he wants to ensure that current and future jockeys are protected.

“I can remember years ago if you went down, the clerk of scales would say, ‘You’re named on five more today. Do you want to ride or take off?’ For the health and safety of riders, they should be diagnosed before they go out and perform the next race. We need to try to eliminate repeated head trauma, the effect of it, and what it can do to someone in the later stages of life.

“We need to be proactive and not reactive.”

Rizen told the PHRC baseline concussion protocol should be part of every jockey’s medical history. He said it’s a two-step process: Basic questions are asked after a rider takes a fall, and the answers determine whether more advanced examination is necessary.

“I think it’s a serious issue,” Rizen said. “It’s so important that you consider mandating that all jockeys ride who ride in Pennsylvania have to undergo baseline concussion protocol. We can find the wherewithal to make it happen (if it becomes mandatory). Unless something is mandated, they’re not going to do it.”

Rizen said Ryan was slated to attend the Nov. 28 meeting but had a conflict. He said she will be asked to attend the December meeting to participate in the discussion.

“Dr. Ryan is doing some breakthrough research in Maryland, and she is willing to share it with us,” Rizen said. “It has been a real educational process in Maryland.”

Black, who noted he would continue to pursue concussion protocol “even if there is opposition,” said he believes the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance is taking the lead on concussion protocol. The alliance visited Parx just before Thanksgiving as part of its accreditation process.

Parx Chief Operating Officer Joe Wilson told the PHRC the track applied for accreditation, and that the “early indication is (the review) went very well but it will take time to complete before they make a recommendation.” Parx, if successful, would be the only track in Pennsylvania to be accredited by the alliance, which has a broad code of standards that is usually updated year to year.

(Parx Racing photo by Tom LaMarra)