Jockey paralyzed in fall at Golden Gate Fields race

September 15, 2010 12:25:34 AM PDT
A horrible accident has paralyzed a Bay Area jockey who is expecting his first child this month, but Michael Martinez's friends and family still believe he will walk and ride again.

In a split second, a 1,000 lb. thoroughbred named "Fair' n Warmer" tripped and fell, crushing her 108 lb. jockey.

The impact shattered three of Martinez's vertebrae which severed his spinal cord paralyzing him from the waist down. Doctors were afraid he might not make it, until Tuesday.

"They actually asked him his name. He responded, 'Michael.' So that was a real good sign," said Martinez's agent, Dennis Patterson.

At Golden Gate Fields, they say Martinez has a gift -- the kind you can't teach a jockey. He had a special way of connecting with horses to get the most out of them.

At 24 years of age, Martinez is a rising talent at Golden Gate Fields. He ranks 13th in North America and trainers say he was riding his way to a Triple Crown race.

"No telling how great this kid was going to be. I mean he was far above your ordinary jockey," said horse trainer Dennis Patterson, Sr.

Michael's cousin, Alex Solis, is also a top jockey who says even after spills like these it's hard to quit the job they love.

"I broke vertebrae in my back. I have titanium screws in my back. I broke both knees, both legs, toes, you name it," said Solis.

Solis and Martinez have had their scary moments, but Golden Gate employees say this one is the worst in a decade.

"One of the things I always told him is that you have to be real clear that you love doing this. The day you feel scared and you don't feel like doing it again, you just need to quit," says Solis.

Doctors tell the "Daily Racing Form" Martinez is a prime candidate for embryonic stem cell therapy to regenerate his severed spine. It is a long shot, but he may just get back on his saddle and ride again.


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