When jockey Simone Montgomerie lost her life in a race fall this year, her death highlighted the risks and dangers a jockey faces every time they go out on a race track. Tragically, we would lose another great rider, Desiree Gill, who passed away after a race fall last month. More than 500 jockeys have lost their lives while doing their job, with many more sustaining injuries that often have a permanent effect on both them and their families.
Tony Crisafi is the National Manager of the National Jockeys Trust. Tony was kind enough to speak to Fillies Form and explain the important role the NJT plays in providing assistance, and more importantly giving hope to jockeys and their families in their time of need.
Fillies Form: When and why was the National Jockeys Trust (NJT) established?
Tony Crisafi: The National Jockeys’ Trust was established by the Australian Jockeys Association in 2004 to provide support for riders who have encountered life changing, career ending injuries and who are in need of assistance. The principal purpose of the National Jockeys Trust is to provide support for former and current jockeys, and their families who are in necessitous circumstances as a result of serious injury, illness or death of a jockey. Grants of financial assistance made by the Trust are strictly governed by the Trust’s Deed.
The National Jockeys’ Trust faces a real challenge in raising the funds that are required to provide meaningful assistance to an acceptable percentage of those who qualify under the NJT’s charter. The Trust has been endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office as an income tax exempt charity and as a deductible gift recipient, and has been registered by the charitable organisation’s licensing agencies in all Australian States and Territories.
FF: How many jockeys are registered in Australia? and how many are injured every year?
TC: There are 840 jockeys registered in Australia and here are some statistics that support the need for the NJT –
- 89% of jockeys will have a fall that requires medical assistance
- 9% have fallen more than 20 times
- Each year 40% of jockeys will have a fall that will prevent them from riding for an average of 5 weeks.
- Combined with trackwork, we have nearly 500 falls annually. Most a not serious, but approx. 5% would be termed career ending injuries.
- We estimate that in the next 10 years we will see 10-12 jockey deaths (we hope and pray there are none)
- We also forecast that in the next 10 years between 40 and 50 jockeys will suffer serious injury such as paraplegia, quadriplegia or brain injury (again we hope that there will be none)
FF: Of those who are injured, how many are able to come back to work at full capacity?
TC: It is difficult to provide an accurate figure as the statistics are not managed nationally. Also, you have some jockeys that may walk away from racing for a year or two because of a bad fall, then return. Most jockeys do return to work in a full capacity but a small percentage do suffer career-ending falls.
FF: For those who cannot return to work duties, are there programs in place to re-train/assist with work placement?
TC: The Australian Jockeys Association and the State Racing Authorities have set up career assistance programs for current and former jockeys to help them obtain new qualifications. The unfortunate fact is that most jockeys leave school when they are 15yo -16yo and all they know is “riding horses”, many jockeys miss out on the important final 3 years of school. A jockey, for example, may reach 30 years of age and after many falls, finally decides that he/she cannot continue riding, their future is often clouded with confusion. In NSW we work closely work with a TAFE organisation called OTEN Career Counselling Services. Similar services are available for jockeys in other states.
FF: What are the greatest challenges a jockey faces when seriously injured?
TC: A jockey, either a top metropolitan or a battling country jockey, all suffer when a serious fall occurs. Financially, the workers compensation has improved in most states recently, but jockeys are still not earning what they would have been, if they were riding. Some jockeys are significantly worse off, if they were also injured in the previous 12 months. Psychologically, they are devastated and wonder whether they will be able to ride again, and whether they will get the support from owners and trainers. We know that after a serious injury, it takes a few months in the saddle for jockeys to return to the number of rides they were acquiring before the serious fall. This impacts on them and their family, financially and psychologically.
The Australian Jockeys Association has established a sports psychologist for each state and jockeys can call on them anytime. Physically, jockeys put their lives on the line in every race. Many have had serious falls and all these falls have an impact. Some jockeys carry those injuries for many years, if not a lifetime. Many jockeys who have severe injuries, forcing them onto disability pensions, never recover and sadly most are forgotten by the industry. The National Jockeys Trust, State Jockey Associations and the Australian Jockeys Association do keep in touch with many of these seriously injured jockeys.
FF: Where does the funding for the NJT come from? Does the NJT receive any funding from the Government and/or any other State Racing Bodies?
TC: The majority of the funding comes from the partnership deal we have with LUCRF Super whose name appears on all Australian jockeys breeches (from 2007 to 2012 Jayco were our main sponsors ad we are very grateful for the support they gave the NJT). Also, the Trust receives funds from some State Racing Authorities (not all) from the fines that are imposed against jockeys for breaching the rules of racing. Fund raising activities including race day functions, special events such as golf days and cricket matches, the NJT shop online has provided much needed funds also. We do not receive any government funding, despite representations made to all State and Territory Racing Ministers. Some State Racing Authorities support the Trust in promotion of special events.
FF: In what capacity does the NJT help injured jockeys and the families of those who have passed away?
TC: The NJT assist in many ways – we obviously help the injured jockey financially if needed. We will help them with the support of counsellors and psychologist. When a life-changing injury or death occurs, the AJA has set up a Critical Incident Response Protocol, and this involves a member of the Association/NJT and a psychologist being immediately involved with the family, supporting them in every way. The National Jockeys Trust and the Australian Jockeys Association also provide support to fellow jockeys who were riding on the day &/or who are friends of the jockey.
FF: What are the challenges the NJT face when trying to raise sustainable funds in order to meet the needs of injured jockeys?
TC: The National Jockeys’ Trust faces a real challenge in raising the funds that are required to provide meaningful assistance to an acceptable percentage of those who qualify under the NJT’s charter. We have seen an increase in the number of applicants over the past few years and in the present economic climate, funds are difficult to attract. The NJT will however continue to make representations to Federal and State Governments for financial assistance, as they reap significant financial benefits from the industry.
FF: Are there limitations to how much the NJT can assist injured jockeys?
TC: National Jockeys Trust does not have limitations, and we will continue to assist when and where necessary.
FF: Do the majority of riders have insurance? Is it generally expensive due to the nature of their work?
TC: In 2009 the Australian Jockeys Association won a campaign to have 1% of prizemoney put aside for the welfare of jockeys. A major percentage of this money pays for Personal Accident and Public Liability Insurance. This undoubtedly helps jockeys but quite a few still fall “through the cracks” and many need to wait quite some time before receiving any funds for insurance.
FF: Is the safety of racing improving?
TC: Absolutely. Australian racing is one of the safest in the world. A number of initiatives pushed by the AJA in recent years have been: improved quality with the helmets and vests worn by jockeys; improved running rails that are now plastic on many racecourses; improved OH&S procedures allowing jockeys to ride on safer surfaces and safer surroundings. Having said that, accidents will continue to happen and falls will happen. The AJA are always striving to find ways to a) limit the occurrence of falls and b) limit the impact of falls.
FF: What can the public do to support your organisation?
TC: General awareness is the key as well as financial support by the public. The public can donate and buy great products on our shop online via www.njt.org.au. They can also participate at one of our functions, the next one is at Caulfield on 7 December. Probably our most important day is the first Saturday in August when we have National Jockeys Celebration Day throughout Australia. We want to establish a day on the national calendar to:
- Recognise the contribution that both former and current jockeys have made to the thoroughbred industry;
- To commemorate those jockeys who have lost their lives in riding accidents; and
- To raise funds for the National Jockeys Trust.
FF: It often takes a death of a jockey for the public to realise the dangers of the sport and the importance of the NJT. How do you maintain awareness and grow the trust?
TC: Each state holds a National Jockeys Trust fund-raising day; many states have other fund raises such as golf days; cricket matches; fun runs etc. Our biggest media push is the National Jockeys Celebration Day as per above.
Below are the stories of Pat Ferris, Anne-Marie Wilkinson, Shaun Organ and Ray Silburn. All have been assisted by the NJT.
On Monday 28 June 2010, Pat Ferris was involved in a race fall at Muswellbrook races that nearly cost him his life. Pats mount fell at the top of the straight and he was galloped on by other runners after being thrown to the track.
Pat was unconscious when transported to hospital in Sydney. He was placed on life support after he had surgery to release pressure from bleeding on his brain.
Besides the brain injury, Pat suffered a fractured jaw and eye socket. He has endured considerable rehabilitation to this day, still suffering dizzy spells and vision problems.
Whilst he will never ride again, he counts himself fortunate to have the loving support of his wife and two young children.
The NJT continue to support Pat and his family.
Anne-Marie Wilkinson was an 18 year old apprentice jockey in 1996 when she had a tragic race fall in a hurdle race in South Australia. She not only suffered head and spinal injuries but her eye sight has also been severely affected.
Anne-Marie has been confined to a wheelchair since her accident and has been looked after by her parents ever since.
In 2012 The National Jockeys Trust heard that Anne-Marie and her parents were struggling with limited space at the family home to cater for her wheelchairs and exercise equipment. The Trust engaged a local builder to construct an extension including a sunroom and decked pergola to Anne-Maries home.
The Trust also made Anne-Marie the South Australian National Jockey Celebration Day Ambassador in 2012.
Shaun Organ was a jockey who suffered a fall during a race ride in June 1996 at Casterton, Victoria. His injuries were extensive and included a blood clot on the brain and a related stroke which has left him restricted on his left side and short term memory loss. His career was cut dramatically short.
Shaun finds that he is unable to live a normal life as he tires easily and suffers severe headaches that can sometimes last the entire day. Due to his brain injuries he finds it hard to communicate with those around him which is extremely frustrating and exhausting.
Shaun and his wife Kristy have four children and the NJT have been able to provide them with emotional and financial support.
This YouTube video was posted in 2009
We would personally like to thank Tony Crisafi for providing an inside look at the functions of the NJT. The dedication shown by both Tony, and the NJT staff, will ensure the trust continues to assist both jockey’s and their families for many years to come.