Norton Healthcare athletic trainers working hands-on at Kentucky Derby for first time

Norton Healthcare’s certified athletic trainers will work alongside sports medicine physicians to support jockey health and Kentucky Derby patron care.

On May 4, 2024, Louisville will make history when it celebrates the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby.

The glitz, glamour and tradition of the day will culminate in one two-minute race, as the 20 best 3-year-old thoroughbreds will enter the starting gate and run 1¼ miles, while millions from around the world watch with excitement.

Many are watching the race itself, anticipating a photo finish. Some are locked on a specific horse, cheering for a wager to cash. Still others are taking in the scenery, some of the most beautiful in all of horse racing.

While that happens, new sets of eyes will be taking in history as well, focused on the health of jockeys and spectators.

For the first time, Norton Healthcare’s certified athletic trainers will be stationed at the Norton Sports Health Jockey Care Clinic at Churchill Downs, working alongside sports medicine physicians to support jockey health and patron care. The goal is a successful Derby Week with the safety of everyone in mind.

“It’s just electric,” said Tiff L. Haub, M.S., ATC, director of Norton Sports Health. “The feeling and the adrenaline that lead up to Derby Day are incomparable. We know our providers will be relied upon to help keep the jockeys in the best shape possible, and we’re ready to be there for them when they need us.”

The addition of certified athletic trainers builds on a partnership that established Norton Sports Health as the official medical provider of Churchill Downs in April 2022. Since then, Norton Sports Health physicians have been stationed at the track for all 75 race days each year.

The addition of the certified athletic trainers elevates the partnership and promotes safety.

“We know it takes a team,” said Dominic Morales, MAL, LAT, ATC, CES, sports health coordinator, Norton Sports Health. “And our sports medicine physicians are huge advocates for our athletic trainers.”

The seamless collaboration between the trackside physicians and athletic trainers allows the team to evaluate jockeys for a variety of injuries while also performing mandated sports physical exams and concussion evaluations.

“It’s crucial that we provide the care these athletes need,” Dominic said. “Anytime you have a horse going 40 miles per hour on a track with someone on top, you know it can be dangerous. And we know concussions can have long-lasting effects. So, giving the jockeys that peace of mind prerace, letting them know they’re physically and mentally fit to race, is critical to their success.”

Jockey health care has become a priority in recent years.

Institutions like the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) have helped implement several health and safety mandates, including mandatory concussion testing. The goal is to bring horse racing in line with America’s other major sports.

By providing sports medicine physicians and certified athletic trainers who are skilled at treating athletic injuries, Norton Sports Health is boosting the medical care available for jockey athletes who have to push themselves to the limits, both physically and mentally.

In addition, Norton Sports Health has supplied performance dieticians and mental health professionals to provide care for the whole person.

“We really want to make a positive impact on their lives, in any way we can,” Tiff said. “We always educate and emphasize to the jockeys, owners and trainers that the goal is for the jockey to ride, but only if they’re safe to do so. We want to support them being their best selves, so they can have their best ride.”

Ready for anything

Despite its name, the clinic’s care doesn’t stop with jockeys.

The Norton Sports Health team also provides care for racetrack patrons, a massive undertaking during Kentucky Derby Week, when upward of 450,000 people may walk through the gates of Churchill Downs.

“We start planning a year in advance for Derby Week specifically,” Tiff said. “But January is when everything really ramps up. We talk about our needs and how we’re going to coordinate, while we also debrief about things we did last year that we may want to change or improve on. For other sports, like the NFL, they start with preseason games and build their way to their biggest games. But we have to be ready on day one.”

“With that amount of people, everything is elevated,” Dominic said. “The stakes are elevated. Injuries are often elevated. Everything is under the microscope. So we really have to be ready to go that whole week. By Derby Day, it should be a well-oiled machine. Our job is to be so well prepared ahead of time that come the big days … we’re ready to go.”

So as the horses break from the gate and turn for home, attracting the attention of millions, the jockeys can ride assured, knowing some of the people watching are ready to provide the best care possible.

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