Australian jockey death could boost quest for jockey safety jacket

Paramedics treat Simone Montgomerie

Paramedics treat Simone Montgomerie

The Australian racing community was in shock after the death of a jockey in one of the lead up races to the Darwin Cup. Simone Montgomerie, aged 26, was leading the race on Riahgrand when the horse shied 100 metres from the finish and threw her to the ground before the rest of the field trampled over her.

Paramedics were very quickly on the scene to treat her, but Montgomerie died shortly after arriving at Darwin hospital. Brett Dixon, chairman of the Darwin Turf Club, confirmed the death at a media conference at 5.30pm. He said, “As far as we are concerned, Simone was our family and we are all devastated by this accident."

The incident led local stewards to cancel the last three races on the day’s card, including the Darwin Cup. Chief Steward Lindsay Lane explained the reasoning behind that decision, saying, “The stewards are somewhat concerned given the close nature of the riding community here in Darwin about the effect that it may have on the other riders so we've spoken to the riders. Some of them are quite concerned and quite upset so we've taken the view that the number one priority is safety and well-being of the riding group and we've elected to abandon the meeting. I'm sure that the riders can ride at their best but whether they can ride safely with the fall on their mind, the stewards aren't totally convinced. The common sense thing to do is to call the meeting off. It's very unfortunate for the club. It's unfortunate for the public that they won't be able to see the running of the 2013 Darwin Cup today but safety going forward is our number one concern and hence we've taken the decision that we have."

Champion jockey in Australia, Kerrin McEvoy has ridden many times for Montgomerie’s father, Peter, including 200 Melbourne Cup winner Brew. He and Simone grew up in the same place where they competed against each other in pony club events. He spoke for the whole racing world when he said, “My condolences go to the Montgomerie family. It’s just a tragedy.”

There’s the possibility of less serious consequences from falls in the future. Kauto Star’s dressage trainer/rider Laura Collett suffered a serious fall from her horse Tis A Beauty at Tweseldown horse trials last month. She told BBC Sport after she came out of a six-day coma that “Paramedics said the air jacket Ii was wearing probably saved my life.” As it is, she has several broken bones and damage to her liver.

Now Collett is recovering at Oaksey House, the Injured Jockey’s Fund run centre in Lambourn. She said that the day of her fall is a complete blank, before reflecting on how fortunate she was in comparison with others, particularly Brain Toomey, who had also been placed in an induced coma after his fall at Perth at the beginning of July.

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She said, “That's where you can be very lucky. You can have someone else who's fallen and be in a worse condition. Thankfully, he seems to be making progress. It was amazing to see the support he's getting as well and fingers crossed, he keeps improving.”

The air jacket that could save lives

The air jacket that could save lives

The air jacket works in a similar way to an aircraft life jacket. It’s attached to the saddle with a lanyard, and if the rider falls, the lanyard activates a trigger to puncture a CO2 canister. The jacket then inflates and gives some protection to the neck, spinal column and body.

Point Two, the company that makes them, is working with the British Horseracing Authority and the Injured Jockeys’ Fund to develop a jacket for use in jump racing. General Manager Julian Westway said that they hoped “to develop an air bag standard for jockeys as there is growing understanding of the protection that could be offered in the event of a fall. The jackets have been tested for a wide range of features including inflation speed, pressure at inflation, impact tests, area of coverage, and ergonomics to ensure the jockeys could still tuck and roll.”

Clearly, they are not there yet, but yesterday’s tragic events in Australia, along with the falls involving Colette and Toomey, serve to remind us once again of the inherent risks in riding and the need to continually seek ways of reducing that risk for jockeys.

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