Story by: Henry Winkelhake; Reviewed by Nathan L. McKinney, D.O. on May 1, 2023
Churchill Downs is home to hundreds of horse races each year. Norton Sports Health is on hand to provide medical care for jockeys at each one of these contests — from small-field maiden races all the way up to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
We all know and love “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” but with this excitement comes risk of injury. Thoroughbreds routinely race at speeds exceeding 40 miles per hour. This high velocity paired with the hazard of 1,000-pound animals running in tight quarters creates the potential for frightening jockey injuries.
Now, jockeys can get care on-site, for injuries or other health concerns.
Nathan L. McKinney, D.O., and Luke A. Beggs, M.D., orthopedic specialists with Norton Orthopedic Institute, staff the Norton Sports Health Jockey Care Clinic at Churchill Downs.
“When jockeys fall, it takes a head-to-toe exam to rule out things like intra-abdominal injury, bone fractures or concussions. The high impact jockeys are exposed to with these injuries can be along the lines of what we’d expect from a car accident. ” Dr. McKinney said.
The injury risks jockeys face underscore the importance of having health care providers close by. To address that risk, either Dr. McKinney or Dr. Beggs is posted trackside for all races, collaborating with EMTs to respond quickly to emergency situations. When a jockey needs medical attention, they’re rushed to the clinic, where the doctor quickly can diagnose the injury and carefully develop plans for treatment.
No matter what type of athlete you are, Norton Sports Health can provide you with the care you need.
Timely response to injuries is only half the battle. The Norton Sports Health team also works proactively with jockeys to meet needs for preventive care.
“A recent change in governance requires all jockeys to have an annual physical and baseline concussion evaluation. These tests provide a point of reference to compare against, giving us a better idea of what’s ‘normal’ for a patient,” Dr. McKinney said.
As is the case with many athletes competing at the highest level, jockeys can struggle to know when to listen to their bodies.
“Jockeys want to ride. And we want them to ride too, as long as it’s safe to do so. Our challenge is to evaluate them in a timely fashion and make sure they’re fit to compete. Sometimes that means having difficult conversations, but we have a responsibility to protect these athletes,” Dr. McKinney said.
The Norton Sports Health team will be on-site to assist with first aid as Churchill Downs crowds swell for this year’s Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.
A Kentucky native, Dr. McKinney is eager to attend the “Run for the Roses” for the first time. Asked to predict a Derby winner, Dr. McKinney replied: “Angel of Empire.” “I grew up in Kentucky and watched the Derby every year. I ran track at Bellarmine though, so I was always out of town at a meet for Derby weekend. It’s surreal to now get to be here and to become a part of the tradition,” Dr. McKinney said.
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