LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Stacy Burton’s last time racing a horse was nearly the last day of her life. On Aug. 26, 2000, Burton mounted Lot O Love on a sloppy track at Prescott Downs in Arizona. Shortly after the horses broke from the gate, one fell, popped back up, and started sprinting the wrong way on the track. A horrific head-on collision followed that left two horses dead and Burton with severe brain damage.
“When you say, 'beating odds' — she beat odds, beyond odds and odds,” said Nancy LaSala, executive director of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF). “It sends chills down the spine, what she went through.”
Burton is one of roughly 60 jockeys who receive financial assistance from PDJF, which was specifically created in 2006 to support jockeys who suffer catastrophic on-track injuries.
“So little was being done for them at the time,” said LaSala, who is married to retired jockey Jerry LaSala.
Now, through the PDJF, permanently disabled jockeys like Burton receive $1,000 a month and help to cover the costs of their ever-present medical bills. “We want to make sure they’re not compromising their medical health due to a lack of financial resources,” LaSala said.
Still, many suffer financial hardships.
Most of the program’s recipients were injured in their 20s, meaning they didn’t have time to build up much personal wealth. In most states, jockeys are independent contractors, so they’re often left to rely on Social Security Disability Insurance in the event of an injury.
The sad reality is that some injuries also get more attention than others, LaSala said. And even those that get attention can’t sustain it. But when you’re the jockey who was disabled, you can’t easily move on.
“You have to figure out the rest of your life,” LaSala said. “That’s why PDJF was so important to establish.”
PDJF is a reflection of the broader horse racing world, which LaSala described as her “extended family.” That family includes Ron Turcotte, the Hall of Fame jockey who rode Secretariat to a Triple Crown in 1973. Five years after that achievement, Turcotte fell from his horse, leaving him paralyzed.
“This is a community that rallies around people when they need things,” said LaSala.
Some of that rallying will take place Wednesday night in Louisville, when PDJF is the beneficiary of Jocktails, a fundraiser put on by local entrepreneur Joey Wagner.
PDJF’s entire budget comes from fundraising, LaSala said, noting that the horse racing industry does not provide a consistent revenue stream to the group. Besides the Derby week fundraiser, PDJF also holds an annual telethon. This year’s event, held in early April, brought together Hall of Fame jockeys and on-air talent from the TVG Network to raise a record $383,945.
To achieve LaSala’s vision for the future of PDJF, she’d like to see a more sustainable revenue stream, something that would allow the organization to provide even more to Burton and those like her.
“It’s been our board’s mission to create an endowment of a sizable number so we could get them to a minimum cost of living, around $26,000 a year,” she said. “We’re not providing a luxurious life, but if we were able to get them to that level, their quality of life would be significantly improved,” she said.
If you would like to donate to PDJF, you can do so easily on the group's website.