At first, it was just another version of disturbing: shortly after the beginning of the eighth race yesterday at Aqueduct, jockey Mike Luzzi was working hard to pull up Cloud Nine. Watching the turf race from the winner’s circle, we could see that a rear leg was badly broken–horse and jockey were directly across from us. It was, as always, sickening, perhaps more so because the horse was so close.
Disturbing turned to distressing when Luzzi couldn’t calm the horse; the jockey was off and holding the reins, but Cloud Nine reared on that broken leg, wheeled, as the small group of us across the track watched, aghast, feeling for both injured horse and jockey.
And—all of this within seconds—distressing turned to horrifying when we realized that they were standing at the finish line, and that before too long, seven horses and jockeys would come thundering down the stretch, directly at them.
NYRA staff began to pour across the race track to help Luzzi; I turned and went down into the paddock, unable to watch any longer. I heard patrons yelling from the apron, “Get him out of the way! Get him out of the way!” The horsemen watching on the paddock TV were silent.
Tom Durkin’s call was disjointed: there were long moments when he said nothing, undoubtedly surveying the scene, wondering what he needed to say, and as the field came around the far turn, he warned the jockeys, “So now, the field is, uh, moving towards the top of the stretch. We’ve got a very dicey situation here at the finish line, ladies and gentlemen, with a stricken horse, hoping that the riders stay to the inside here.” His voice contained trepidation, not excitement, as he called the run to the wire, noting with relief that the horses avoided their fallen rival, lying outside of their path, being “comforted by an outrider,” as Steven Crist put it. The replay shows the horse and outrider, a touching and heartbreaking image.
Following the race and in many of today’s reports, manager of racing operations Bruce Johnstone and director of racing surfaces Glenn Kozak were identified as instrumental in getting Cloud Nine out of harm’s way.
Cloud Nine was euthanized on the track, delaying the start of the Withers, a delay welcomed by many who witnessed the sickening series of events.