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Jockeys say injuries are 'inevitable.' Canterbury's Leg up Day will help injured jockeys pay their bills

Canterbury hall-of-fame jockey Dean Butler said when you ride enough horses, you’re going to get injured.

And however much is enough, Butler has surpassed it.

He’s ridden about 16,000 horses by his count, breaking his nose, suffering nine concussions, breaking his leg and cracking three vertebrae. In 2000, he was thrown off a horse and hit his head on the ground so hard that he had a seizure and flatlined twice.

In 2005, he was in the lead when his horse snapped its leg and dove to the ground, landing on top of Butler. He broke his tibia and fibula, both shin bones, that day. His mother watches his races only on replay when she knows he didn’t get hurt.

Butler is one of two jockeys who got help last year from Canterbury’s Leg Up Fund, which was established in 2014 to provide financial support to riders injured at Canterbury as they recover.

Jockeys chip in $1 for each horse they mount, and donors also contribute to the fund. This Sunday is Leg Up Day at Canterbury, when the Leg Up Fund will raise money through a raffle to win a moped, a silent auction and a bouncy ball race among some jockeys.

Anyone can sponsor a “bouncy ball jockey” for $300 and will get to name the ball the jockey rides on.

“It’s hysterical,” fund Treasurer Kay King said. “Paul Allen will come down from the press box and call the race from the winner’s circle. … It’s something to do, it’s super funny, and it’s a way (fans) can help out someone who’s injured now or in the future.”

Public donations will also be accepted Sunday, King said. Racing will begin at 12:45.

Matter of when, not if

Award-winning horse jockey Lori Keith, who also got help from the fund last year, said her story is much like Butler’s. She was on an early-morning ride at Canterbury Park last June when her horse stumbled and fell, catapulting Keith to the ground and causing her wrist to break in multiple places.

She called the fall lucky. Since her jockey career started in 2005, Keith has broken her back, ankle, tailbone and other wrist.

Keith and Butler said injuries among jockeys aren’t a matter of if but when.

The hardest hurdle to jump over after the pain of the injury subsides isn’t physical therapy or regaining strength, both added. It’s trying to find a way to make ends meet so they can provide for their families. When jockeys don’t ride, they don’t have an income.

In 2014, a jockey named Anne Von Rosen, who raced at Canterbury in the summer, was seriously injured in an accident in Phoenix. Her horse was galloping out of the gates after a race when it stumbled and fell. Von Rosen fractured her spine in multiple places and is paralyzed from the waist down.

The racing community at Canterbury wanted to help Von Rosen financially. So they hosted a benefit with a meal, entertainment and a silent auction. That’s what sparked the idea to create a permanent fund for Canterbury jockeys who had to face the prospect of a stalled paycheck should they get injured.

The fund gives up to $200 per week for car payments, rent, groceries or other immediate needs.

Most Canterbury jockeys have medical insurance through the track, and some have long-term disability insurance. But King said meeting an injured jockey’s immediate needs has always been a challenge.

It’s not much, King said. But it’s something. Since it started, the Leg Up Fund has collected more than $200,000 and paid out about $45,000 to 14 jockeys.

Butler and Keith were the only two Canterbury jockeys who utilized the fund last year. Two years ago, seven used the fund.

The Leg Up Fund is currently helping one jockey who was kicked by a horse and broke three ribs, which lacerated his liver. King said he’ll be out for at least six months.

“It’s a dangerous sport. Someone can get killed in a split second,” Butler said. “You’re riding to win, but you’re also looking out for (the other jockeys). We’re the only sport in the world where the athletes come back to the same locker room.”

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