By T. D. Thornton
Jose Luis Flores, the all-time leading money-earning jockey at Parx Racing and the former Philadelphia Park, remains hospitalized and in a coma with a grim prognosis as of noon Tuesday after suffering traumatic head and spine injuries in a spill at the Bensalem, Pennsylvania, track in the ninth race Mar. 19.
“He’s on life support and his wife is waiting for some family members to arrive from Florida to see him,” Sam Elliott, the Parx director of racing, told TDN via phone. “Then they’ll make the decision to do whatever they’re going to do. As of now, he’s still with us.”
Flores, 56, had attained the lead aboard 14-1 Love Rules (Not For Love) in a starter-allowance six-furlong sprint, but was engaged on both sides by challengers nearing the seven-sixteenths pole. His mount suddenly fell between those rivals, and it appears as if he was struck by a midpack horse, The Pooch (City Zip), who also fell and unseated jockey Ruben Silvera. Easy River (Not For Love) dislodged jockey Carol Cedeno when swerving to avoid the spills, and two other horses were eased in attempts to avoid further collisions.
“If you look at it, the horse in back of him just made really solid contact with him,” Elliott said. “I haven’t spoken to the doctors, so I don’t want to speculate on the exact nature of his injuries. I didn’t see him on the racetrack, but I saw him when they transferred him to an ambulance, and he was unconscious then.”
Flores is hospitalized at Jefferson Torresdale Hospital in Philadelphia, where scores of members of the Parx racing community have kept a vigil since Monday evening alongside his wife, Joanne McDaid-Flores.
“This is a well-loved, top-flight guy,” Elliott said. “Always helped younger riders. If they were all like him, boy this would be a real easy business. He’s 56 years old, still came out and worked hard every day. His wife used to be a jockey, and she still gallops horses. They have a seven-year-old [son] together, and Jose has older children.”
Elliott said Love Rules was euthanized, and that a necropsy scheduled for Tuesday might reveal more about what caused the horse to fall.
“If you look at the form of [Love Rules], he just won a $25,000 starter [allowance],” Elliott said. “Nothing indicates this would happen. I’m not sure anybody is really clear yet how it happened. The horse ended up with a broken shoulder. That’s usually from a fall. The horse is out for a post-mortem today at the New Bolton Center, so we’ll let them make the determination about how it happened. But ‘how’ isn’t really that important at the moment.”
Jason Klouser, an enforcement official with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Thoroughbred Horse Racing, would not confirm that the bureau is involved in any pending necropsy, but he did say other jockeys in the race would be interviewed by the bureau’s officials. “Any time there’s an incident on the track, it’s thoroughly investigated, and that’s as much as I can share with you at this time,” he added.
The other two fallen riders and horses escaped serious injury, Elliott said.
“Ruben Silvera walked back into the jocks’ room after it,” Elliott said. “He was shook up, and I think he’s probably a little body sore this morning. Carol Cedeno had pain in her neck. She had an MRI, they kept her overnight, and she was released this morning. I spoke to her, and they say she can return to work tomorrow.
“[The Pooch] was okay. And [Easy River], the outrider caught him and brought him back to the paddock,” Elliott continued. “He was sore enough that the veterinarian had the horse ambulance come get him. But he was able to walk onto the van, and as of this morning he’s probably a little body sore, but otherwise okay.”
Parx management made the decision to call off live racing Tuesday in the wake of the tragic accident. A notice on the Facebook page of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (PTHA) said Parx would be closed for training Wednesday, Mar. 21, but that’s because a snowstorm is in the forecast. Similarly, the Parx horsemen’s awards banquet Wednesday evening had already been rescheduled for Mar. 28 because of the expected inclement weather.
Flores was inducted into the Parx Hall of Fame five years ago. A biography on the PTHA website explained that his father was a jockey in his native Peru, and once the younger Flores showed an interest in riding, he learned the trade at a farm before serving his on-track apprenticeship. As a journeyman, he moved to Panama in 1983, competing at Hipodromo Presidente Ramon for four years before settling in Miami and riding at Calder, Hialeah and Gulfstream.
In the early ’90s, Flores was a dominant standings-topper at Penn National. He switched his main base to Parx shortly thereafter. Equibase lists him with 4,650 wins from 28,684 starts with over $64 million in earnings.
Elliott said that beyond asking for prayers, the Parx racing community hasn’t yet outlined a definite way others can help.
“I think everyone’s kind of coming to grips with what happened here, and I’m sure some sort of fund will be set up for his family,” Elliott said. “We’ll figure that one out as we go along here. I went in this morning, and I just thought out of respect for Jose and his family that we shouldn’t operate today. Most of the riders were at the hospital comforting his wife, Joanne. It was good to see. Personally, I don’t think the riders would have been able to answer the bell today. On Saturday, weather permitting, we’re just going to regroup and go out and race–it’s what we do.”