Every year since 2015, there is a special fan on the sidelines at Preakness. Dr. Kelly Ryan doesn’t pick a horse. She’s there for the jockeys.
Ryan, a MedStar Health sports medicine doctor, leads a medical team at Pimlico Race Course that provides emergency and routine care for those who ride and care for the horses. This race day in Baltimore, three of her regulars are competing.
She and her team, as well as the emergency medical staff, are making sure the jockeys are ready to ride, and if they’re injured, that they get prompt attention.
Ryan knows what damage a 1,000-pound animal running at 40 miles per hour can do to the riders. Most have been thrown, kicked or otherwise put in jeopardy on the racetrack during one race or another.
Last year, someone was injured in the paddock.
”We can go weeks without an injury and then have three falls in a weekend,” said Ryan, whose team is contracted by track operators and the horse owners and trainers.
”Last year, we had a jockey fall right out the gate, and I had to run on the track the opposite way of the horse through the mud to get to him,” she said. “Fortunately, he popped up and was fine. But we have to prepare for the worst.”
It’s still unusual to have doctors at the track at all. But Ryan has been working to change the health care landscape generally, developing concussion protocols for jockeys and making sure those who come through Maryland tracks get baseline assessments and physicals. For jockeys who don’t regularly race in Maryland, she tries to get a little basic information and emergency contacts.
If any are injured Saturday, a medical team plus emergency medical staff will be ready. But this year, she said, “I’m hoping I’m just going to get to watch the races and cheer for them.”