An unlikely series of events resulted in Juan Limon riding a 2-year-old filly in the seventh race at Los Alamitos on Saturday night.
It was the last ride of Limon's life. That filly, Ima Dashing Lady, stumbled 25 yards from the finish of the Quarter Horse Futurity Trials. Thrown over the head of Ima Dashing Lady, Limon was crushed by the filly when she went down. The 35-year-old jockey suffered brain damage and died about 30 minutes after the race in the emergency room at Los Alamitos General Hospital.
Limon wasn't scheduled to ride Ima Dashing Lady in the 350-yard race. At entry time, trainer Blane Schvaneveldt had scheduled his son-in-law, Roman Figueroa, who had ridden Ima Dashing Lady to a third-place finish at Los Alamitos in her only previous start.
Figueroa, riding in the Lassie Stakes at Prescott Downs in Arizona on Saturday afternoon, couldn't get to Los Alamitos in time, and Schvaneveldt hired Limon to ride.
Figueroa has been married for seven years to the former Brenda Schvaneveldt, the trainer's daughter, who was on the verge of being engaged to Val Tonks in 1983 when that 19-year-old jockey was killed in a spill at Los Alamitos. Tonks and Limon are the only jockeys to be killed in the 43-year history of the track.
"(Limon and I) were real good friends," said Blane Schvaneveldt, who was running a couple of horses at Los Alamitos on Sunday, but didn't go to the track to saddle them after the mishap. "We have these accidents very rarely, but when we have them they are very tragic."
On Sunday, Figueroa was back riding at Prescott Downs. By phone between races, he talked about Limon being a jockey who was liked by everybody. Then, addressing the irony of his not making it to Los Alamitos in time, he said: "Somebody must have been watching over me."
Late Saturday afternoon, Figueroa and another jockey, Jose Badilla Jr., were scheduled to take a charter plane from the Prescott airport to Phoenix, to catch a commercial flight to Long Beach. But the races ran long at Prescott Downs and the two riders hired a direct charter from the local airport to Long Beach.
Their two-hour flight actually reached Long Beach a little early. "But after that, nothing went right," Figueroa said.
Badilla's girl friend had arranged to meet the jockeys at Long Beach, but apparently their charter landed at a different terminal. The jockeys left without her, taking a cab.
"I knew the way, but the driver was confused," Figueroa said. "He got some maps out and tried to figure it out."
The stewards at Los Alamitos were allowing trainers to replace the tardy jockeys on a race-by-race basis. The cab carrying Figueroa and Badilla arrived in the track's parking lot as the horses were entering the track for the seventh race, with Limon in Ima Dashing Lady's saddle.
Figueroa watched the race on a television monitor in the jockeys' room.
"It looked like the filly might have (tangled her hoofs) or broken down," he said. "It looked like Juan was going to be all right. I've been in spills exactly like that. You break some ribs, or maybe a collarbone. That's what I thought might have happened this time."
Ima Dashing Lady bounced back up and ran off, apparently not injured. Jimmy Lewis was riding Doctor Gaskill, the colt who won the race.
"Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the other horse (Ima Dashing Lady) near me," Lewis said. "The filly was making a little bit of a run. About 25 yards from the wire, out of the corner of my eye, I could see her go down. I looked back and it looked like she fell on Juan."
Danny Mitchell, the trainer of Merry Freddy, another horse in the race, was among the first to reach Limon. "Danny told me that Juan never took a breath," said Steve Treasure, who rode Merry Freddy.
A native of Jalisco, Mexico, Limon lived in Buena Park with his wife, Rosie, and their 4-year-old daughter. Los Alamitos officials said that Limon had two children from a previous marriage who live in Fresno. Limon had won 19 races at the meet and ranked ninth in the standings.
After beginning his career in Utah, Limon came to Los Alamitos in 1986, winning 205 races and five stakes. His biggest victory came aboard Mighty Easy Pass in the $400,000 Denim N Diamonds Futurity and this year he won the $100,000 California Sires Cup Futurity with Dash Of Cider, whom he was scheduled to ride later on Saturday night's card.
"This is a bad deal," Figueroa said. "He was a good man. He stood by what he said. He had had some bad breaks, some injuries, that slowed him down, but he was putting everything back together again."
Said Mike Hidinger, the jockey room custodian: "Juan was a quiet guy and everybody liked him. He wouldn't have said a mean word if you had hit him with a club."
Visitation for Limon will be from 3 to 6 p.m. today at the Hilgenfeld Mortuary in Anaheim, with a Rosary at 6 p.m. A Mass will be said Tuesday at noon at St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church in Anaheim and the body will be returned to Jalisco, Mexico, for burial.
Ed Allred, president of the Horsemen's Quarter Horse Racing Assn., said his group will pay for funeral expenses and the shipment of the body to Mexico. Limon will be buried in Allred's racing silks and a trust fund will be established for the jockey's family. Before the thoroughbred races at Hollywood Park Sunday, the jockeys observed a moment of silence for Limon and the track's flag was flown at half staff.
Times staff writers Len Hall and Matt White contributed to this story.