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Ambulance Service in Winner's Circle

June 17, 1986|DAVE LARSEN | Times Staff Writer

If the spill isn't serious, sometimes a jockey getting to his feet will quip to the onrushing Stacey O'Bryan and Jessica Graves: "We can't go on meeting this way."

Not ambulance chasers, these two sisters, but rather chasers in an ambulance.

Nine times every racing day at Hollywood Park, usually little noticed by the fans in the stands, there is one participant that always keeps up with the field--and always finishes last.

Toward the Outside Rail

It is a $40,000 Ford ambulance, staying roughly 1/16 of a mile behind, toward the outside rail, and tooling along at between 40 and 45 m.p.h. For four years now, rather than being parked furlongs away on the track and possibly losing valuable seconds coming to the aid of a fallen rider, two medically trained attendants can be ministering to a jockey almost instantly.

"We bowl with the jockeys in a league, and we all know each other," Graves said. "But when one of them goes down, it happens so fast that sometimes you don't know who it is until you take off the goggles and helmet."

O'Bryan mentioned the dreaded multiple spills: "We quickly check everyone, and go back to the one who seems worst off. You can usually tell because one may not be moving yet."

The parents of the two women, Chuck and Joyce Graves, operate Huntington Ambulance Service, which has vehicles on duty at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita and at Los Alamitos--seven days a week, all year round. Nowadays the parents operate the ambulance that is used for emergencies involving patrons in the stands, although Chuck and Joyce used to be the ones on the track.

"The advantage of immediacy is that you can get a plastic tube down the throat and keep the air passage open," Chuck Graves said. "And if there is any arterial bleeding, we can either apply pressure or use a tourniquet before we head for the hospital."

The no-wasted-time approach came about after Chris McCarron, who had been riding in New York, saw a four-horse spill and was impressed by how efficiently an ambulance crew had been able to respond. A Belmont spokesman said by phone the trailing ambulance crew had been instituted just that week that McCarron saw it in action.

He mentioned the matter to Marjorie L. Everett, board chairman and chief executive officer at the Inglewood facility, and she talked it over with him and with jockeys Bill Shoemaker and Laffit Pincay Jr. Everett had the new procedure begun, and the other local tracks eventually followed.

'Trial and Error'

Jessica Graves said the number of jockeys picked up in the ambulance varies from meeting to meeting, perhaps as high as 10 and as low as two. It is a rare rider who is never in an accident.

"The procedure was trial and error," Chuck Graves recalled. "We wanted to drive close enough in the ambulance to be effective, but not to wind up in the photo finish.

"One change came as a result of comments by some fans at the far end of the grandstand. They said the ambulance was blocking their view of the finish. So now, when we hit the stretch, we slow down. We can always accelerate quickly if we have to."

Joyce Graves said that if a fallen jockey is conscious, the rider will invariably ask: "How's the horse?" Or, in the case of a multiple spill: "How are the other riders?"

Things aren't always grim. Jockey Ray Sibille remembered the time he was harmlessly thrown to the grass during the final race on the final day of a meeting:

"I was waiting for the girls. I told them I never had driven an ambulance, and I jumped behind the wheel and drove it back to the winner's circle. I still wish they had told me where the siren was. I wanted to barrel down the stretch with the siren blaring."

Minutes Make a Difference

Jockey Gary Stevens echoed the sentiments of other riders in saluting the now-familiar safety procedure during each race: "It is comforting to know that if you are hurt, somebody will be right there. I have ridden in places where this wasn't done, and I have seen cases where minutes would have made a difference."

Meanwhile, out on the Hollywood Park dirt, 25-year-old Stacey O'Bryan and 23-year-old Jessica Graves had stopped to pick up veterinarian Dr. Roy Dillon, who rides in the passenger seat and keeps an eye on the animals as they do their thing.

When a track is muddy, the two women must first put chains on their tires. Then, rather than following and further harming the surface, they station themselves near the gate and watch the races through binoculars. During grass events, they drive on the dirt, so as not to pack the turf course.

The equipment inside each ambulance at each track includes a resuscitator, suction hoses, cervical collar, splints, backboards and four stretchers. Additionally, there is room for two sit-up patients. The driver is in two-way radio contact with the stewards, other ambulances, security officials and track doctors. If the vehicle is hospital-bound, a quick phone call is made ahead.

90-Hour Course

"Everyone in each crew has taken a 90-hour course in emergency medical training, and has to take 35 hours every two years for a license renewal," Chuck Graves explained.

In the old days, not all of the jockeys appreciated the sight of an emergency vehicle approaching on the track. "Peter Moreno, if he had fallen and wasn't injured, would throw dirt clods at the ambulance," he added.

Nowadays, if the rider isn't hurt, the jockey uses it as a taxi service back to the finish line.

It's the unnoticed starter in every race--and the best bet to finish.

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