Longtime assistant to trainer Raymond Handal, Jose Mejia suffered severe injuries in a Sunday morning spill at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.
According to Handal’s Facebook post and a GoFundMe page, Mejia’s mount stumbled and went down, landing on top of him. The 33-year-old assistant had to be airlifted to the hospital and was found to have incurred 10 broken ribs as well as four broken vertebrae in his spine.
Mejia underwent surgery to fuse the spine with rods and screws, and still has no feeling below his ribcage. Doctors are unsure whether that feeling will return.
“Anyone that is familiar with Handal Racing knows that Jose Mejia has been an integral part of the operation from almost the very beginning,” Handal wrote. “He’s a hard worker, a team player, and most recently has been the ring leader of our strings on the road at Monmouth and Turfway.”
On Handal’s website, Mejia is listed as the “Traveling Assistant” in charge of ensuring that “horses are safe and happy when they are required to travel away from their home track in order to race,” and the man in charge of the barn’s shed row at Saratoga Race Course.
On Steve Byk’s At The Races show Wednesday, Handal explained the incident further.
“It was just an unfortunate incident,” Handal said. “The track had closed for a couple days, and the first day that it reopened he was just doing a routine gallop with one of the horses there at Turfway. The horse switched to his right lead down the backside right around the three-quarters, took a funky step and stumbled. Jose tried to kind of take his head up a little bit, to try to help him recover like you would, but he just had too much momentum going forward. He went down and rolled over on top of him. It was a pretty horrific scene.”
The horse escaped the incident unscathed, getting to his feet and shortly thereafter was corralled by the outriders.
Mejia, however, did not move, and wound up requiring an airlift to the hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“He’s been with me since the beginning, since I started training,” Handal explained (his career began in 2014). “He’s just devoted himself and given so much to me and to our team and to so many different horses over the years, he’s just gone above and beyond.”
Mejia’s 7-year-old daughter, Callie, was staying with her mother in Connecticut over the weekend.
The Jockey Club’s Safety Net Foundation responded to Handal’s social media post, explaining that the organization is available to help fund Mejia’s recovery.
The GoFundMe page to aide in Mejia’s recovery is available here.