There are no certainties in racing.

Brave Anna ridden by Seamie Heffernan (right) gets the better of Roly Poly ridden by Ryan Moore to win The Connolly's Red Mills Cheveley Park Stakes Race run during day three of the The Cambridgeshire Meeting at Newmarket Racecourse. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday September 24, 2016. See PA story RACING Newmarket. Photo credit should read: Julian Herbert/PA Wire
PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday September 24, 2016. See PA story RACING Newmarket. Photo credit should read: Julian Herbert/PA Wire

The phrase ‘suspected spinal injury’ will always be unnerving in the extreme, and one no athlete would hope to hear as a diagnosis. Broken leg? It will heal, in time. There’s something about spinal injuries however that sends a chill up everyone else’s.

As legendary, retired jumps jockey Sir AP McCoy once put it, ‘You only worry about your head or spinal column. Everything else, some way or another, will repair in time’.

If ever the dangers of horse racing – and particularly race riding – were forgotten, they came back to the fore yesterday after a horrific incident in the relative obscurity of Kempton Park racecourse.

view from final fence at Kempton Park racecourse
View from final fence at Kempton Park racecourse

Jockeys Jim Crowley and Freddie Tylicki were both taken to hospital with ‘suspected spinal injuries’ after a prolonged amount of treatment at the track, the latter in an air ambulance. Thankfully, Crowley was discharged from hospital late on Monday with ‘just’ a broken nose.

The news regarding Tylicki isn’t quite as positive. He remains in intensive care in a stable condition at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, with no further news of a more detailed prognosis.

On your standard sports day, this wasn’t a newsworthy race. But at 3:20, in front of a small crowd of racegoers, the unexpected and unpleasant incident occurred a couple of furlongs into the Breeders Backing Racing EBF Maiden Fillies Stakes.

The German-born Tylicki was in the best, and yet in the eventual circumstances, the worst position of all four jockeys whose horses hit the deck on the bend into the home-straight of Kempton’s all-weather track.

Tylicki was in second aboard Nellie Dean, who was tracking the leader and eventual winner Madame Butterfly, when the pair of horses clipped heals. Nellie Dean fell, getting rid of Tylicki who was subsequently trampled on by the hoard of horses in behind, most of whom were travelling at about 30mph at the time.

Crowley, immediately in behind aboard Electrify, was brought down with his horse, as were Steve Drowne aboard Skara Mae and Ted Duncan and his mount Sovrano Dolce. All the horses were reported to be fine. Duncan and Drowne walked back to the weighing room, although it was later discovered Duncan had suffered a broken ankle.

Walking back without realising or acknowledging you have a broken ankle. Either the break wasn’t too bad or that’s a perfect summary of the toughness and stubbornness professional jockeys have, and arguably need to have, to succeed.


Severe injuries are often associated more with the extra perils jump racing clearly has. That doesn’t make those severe injuries less shocking, though.

When jockeys hit the deck during a flat race, it’s almost certainly at a higher speed and more than likely in a much more crowded pack of horses, making kicks and flailing legs and hooves from other horses more likely and, in a way, harder to avoid.

Jockeys are up there with the toughest of athletes, although that’s not new knowledge. I mean, how many athletes are literally followed by an ambulance every single time they go out to perform in their chosen sport?

They are your iron men sports stars, with gritty and massively determined whilst upholding complete respect for their weighing room colleagues. Not the pampered, whinging, multi-millionaire footballers who long for a winter break or prefer their regular dose of unsportsmanlike conduct.

Jockeys are sometimes given haphazard stereotypes, often not in a positive light and almost certainly from those who look in from outside of the sport, rather than those that are immersed in it.

Animal welfare experts will label them as cruel, horse beating madmen driven by only winners and glory instead of the welfare of the horse. A lie, end of.

They’re part of the fixed nature of horse racing, some say. Well, horse racing is not fixed. And jockeys aren’t usually the culprits. Is there an element of fixing in racing? Almost certainly. Proof? Difficult to maintain and when they do, my god the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) have done a bad job handling it (look at the Jim Best trial). Widespread? Absolutely not. Many other sports have significantly bigger problems to deal with.

For Tylicki and Crowley, this incident highlights the extreme ups and downs jockeys face throughout their careers.

Only a few weeks ago, Crowley was applauded by his peers at Ascot and more than 30,000 racegoers as he collected his first-ever Jockey’s Championship, a hard earned title after racking up thousands and thousands of miles up and down the country in a relentless pursuit of winners.

Tylicki, too, has had notable successes in recent months, notching his first two Group 1 wins aboard the James Fanshawe trained filly, Speedy Boarding.

Crowley will be out for a few weeks but will recover. Fingers are crossed Tylicki does the same. That doesn’t always happen in racing though, sadly.

There are no certainties in racing.

Written by Matt Butler, Edited by Jonathan Leighfield

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