Espinoza eyes late De­cem­ber re­turn to rac­ing

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By John Cherwa sports@la­

Jockey Vic­tor Espinoza’s hoped-for re­turn to rac­ing re­mained on hold this week when doc­tors, while pleased at his re­cov­ery, said they be­lieved that it was best if he spent more time re­cov­er­ing from a bro­ken neck.

Espinoza was hope­ful that he would be cleared to re­sume rid­ing soon but lin­ger­ing is­sues with his left arm and the sever­ity of his rac­ing ac­ci­dent have kept him off the track since July 22.

“Both my neu­ro­sur­geon Dr. [Frank] Co­ufal and my neu­rol­o­gist Dr. [Mary] Kala­fut are pleased with the course of my re­cov­ery from my spinal cord in­jury as well as the in­jury to the ver­te­bral artery,” Espinoza said. “I want to come back to ride again and would love to be back by the time Santa Anita opens in late De­cem­ber.

“I’m still deal­ing with is­sues in my left arm and so my re­turn to rid­ing won’t hap­pen un­til I’m 100% ready to go.”

Espinoza was rid­ing Bobby Abu Dhabi in a morn­ing work­out at Del Mar when the horse col­lapsed, throw­ing Espinoza to the ground. It was ini­tially thought that the horse suf­fered a heart at­tack, but a necropsy re­ported that he broke his right front leg and hit the ground so hard that he also broke his back, killing him in se­conds.

Espinoza suf­fered a frac­tured C3 ver­te­bra and was ini­tially par­a­lyzed but has since re­gained full use of his limbs, though he still is hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties with his left arm. Espinoza spent a to­tal of 12 days in ei­ther the hospi­tal or a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion fa­cil­ity. Once he went home, he needed 24-hour care and could not feed, dress or bathe him­self.

“I want to say thank you to ev­ery­one that has sent cards and let­ters,” he said. “I very much ap­pre­ci­ate all of the kind words.”

Espinoza was elected to the rac­ing Hall of Fame last year, two years af­ter win­ning the Triple Crown aboard Amer­i­can Pharoah. He was also the reg­u­lar rider for Cal­i­for­nia Chrome. He has won seven Triple Crown races, in­clud­ing the Ken­tucky Derby three times.

His next start will be his 22,000th. He has 3,358 wins, and his horses have earned al­most $198 mil­lion.

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