And the hits just keep on coming. Jump jockey Willie McCarthy – the third National Steeplechase Association champion jockey to go to the sidelines this year – suffered multiple injuries in a fall at Parx Racing Tuesday afternoon.
McCarthy came off Bishop’s Castle at the second fence of the day’s fifth race, and was struck by a trailing horse. The Irishman, champion jockey in 2014, broke at least three ribs in his back, punctured a lung, broke two vertebrae in his lower back, broke a bone in his left foot, suffered a nasty laceration under his right arm and has a concussion. He’s out at least three months, perhaps more, though considers himself “lucky,” according to fiancée Sara Katz.
“He told me to mention that when he woke up he was scared,” said Katz from McCarthy’s room at Aria Health Hospital in Philadelphia Friday. “He woke up (on the course) to doctors and people helping him. There was a lot of blood. Everything went through his mind.”
McCarthy joins five-time champion Paddy Young (head injury) and 2016 champion Kieran Norris (with a fracture to a bone at the base of his skull) on the sidelines with major injuries. The 2014 champion was instrumental in a fund-raising campaign – at $140,000 and growling – to help offset expenses for Young’s ongoing treatment. McCarthy is hurt, but he's not facing the lengthy rehabilitation of Young.
“It could have been a lot worse,” said Katz. “He was very, very lucky.”
Doctors’ chief concerns are infection from the deep cut to his arm, caused by a horse’s hoof and closed with 10 stitches, and full lung function. McCarthy, 34, is on antibiotics and has a chest tube in place to take fluid off his chest cavity.
“He’s not over the hump yet, but he’s close,” said Katz. “Hopefully, he can go home and heal soon.”
McCarthy won 23 races to lead the NSA standings in 2014, a season propelled by an Iroquois win with Divine Fortune, three wins aboard champion novice All The Way Jose and two major timber wins with timber champion Hot Rize. McCarthy came up through the pony-racing ranks in Ireland and later worked for worked for trainer Jessica Harrington there and for Tom George and Ian Williams in England. He rode for six seasons in England and Ireland, had a nine-ride American foray in 2009 and came over for good in 2011. He’s won 70 races in the U.S. with purse earnings of $2.2 million. This year, McCarthy has won six races from 41 mounts.
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Two charitable foundations exist to assist American jump jockeys and others in the sport, The Steeplechase Fund administered by the National Steeplechase Association to cover insurance and medical costs, and the American Steeplechase Injured Jockeys Fund organized by the jockeys to cover other expenses.