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Jockey and horse survive scary spill at Sonoma County Fairgrounds racetrack

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Spectators at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds racetrack got a major scare Friday evening, when a horse and a rider entering the backstretch broke through the railing and tumbled into the infield. Jockey Luis Ocasio landed on his back before somersaulting “maybe three times,” according to fairgrounds racing director Richard Lewis.

The horse, a 4-year-old filly named Stratus Bird, fell heavily onto her side, “skidded for a while in the grass,” said track veterinarian Dr. Sara Sporer, then got up and went trotting around the nine-hole golf course at the south end of the infield.

A familiar, anxious pall descended on the venue as paramedics attended to Ocasio and outriders corralled the frightened horse. Eight days earlier, a horse named Black Site broke down on this same track, and had to be euthanized. It was the fifth horse death at the track since 2016.

On Friday, the news was much better. Neither mount nor rider was seriously injured: both will race again, the jockey sooner than the horse.

Ocasio was stabilized and taken by ambulance to a hospital, where X-rays were negative. Stratus Bird required stitches for lacerations and a deep puncture wound to the muscles in her shoulder, said Sporer. Once she has healed properly, after two months or so, she’ll be back and racing.

“She’s in her stall now, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, wondering why she didn’t go home last night,” said Sporer, who spent the night in the tack stall, next to Stratus Bird’s stall, “so I could check on her and make sure she didn’t need additional treatment.”

The spill marred the day’s eighth and final race. From the moment track caller Michael Wrota declaimed his signature, stentorian “Ready …. Racing!” Ocasio appeared to have matters well in hand. Coming out of the final turn, a little over a furlong from the finish, they led by a length or so, said Lewis.

That’s when Ocasio raised his arm and brandished his riding crop. While he did not strike the horse, Stratus Bird noticed the “stick,” as jockeys call it, and veered left.

“He waved his riding crop, out in front of the horse’s head, and it looked like the horse shied away from it and ducked toward the rail,” said Lewis.

It’s not as if Stratus Bird intentionally hit the railing, Sporer explained. “She just didn’t see it.”

This was a turf race, on the grass inside the larger dirt track. The filly took out several sections of the railing before falling, and sending Ocasio airborne.

“That was scary — they went right through the fence out there,” said a security guard named Martina. “I’m glad they’re both OK.”

Even though racing was finished for the day, “a considerable number” of concerned spectators stayed in the grandstand while the jockey was placed on a stretcher, then the ambulance.

The resilient Ocasio, who received the 2016 Eclipse Award as his sport’s outstanding apprentice jockey, suffered only bruises. In a phone conversation with Lewis on Saturday morning, he reported “body soreness,” but no fractures. He asked if he might take the day off. The request was granted.

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Ausmurph88

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