Updated: July 28, 2006, 10:32 PM ET
Horses avoid flying umbrella

By Byron King
Daily Racing Form

Nearly every experienced jockey has had to avoid a collision in his riding career, be it with a fallen horse or rider, or perhaps even with a bird or another animal that has wandered onto the racetrack.

A handful of riders at Ellis Park can claim they dodged an umbrella during a race. Several riders did just that with their mounts in the fifth race at Ellis Park on Thursday, when high, swirling winds lifted a large umbrella off a picnic table on the terrace area of the track, blowing it into the path of the horses as they raced down the stretch. The umbrella didn't hit any horses or riders, and there were no injuries.

Victorious Blue Bay, under Jesus Castanon, was steadied slightly inside the sixteenth pole as the umbrella approached, but she appeared largely unaffected. But second-place Adriatic Lady and third-place New Rochelle only narrowly avoided the flying umbrella. It split the two horses as it flew clear across the width of the track

Apprentice jockey Randall Toups, who rode New Rochelle, said the incident happened so fast he didn't have time to think, only react. He said he saw Castanon stand up in the irons immediately in front of him, and then saw a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. The next thing he knew, he found himself ducking to avoid the pole of the umbrella, which he said came within two inches of hitting him. "I couldn't believe it," said Toups.

Once every horse and rider safely crossed the wire, relief replaced the anxiety caused by the incident. "We laughed and joked about it," said Toups.

The incident seemingly had no effect on the order of finish, and the race was declared official without the need of an inquiry. "We were very fortunate," said chief steward John Veitch.

If the umbrella had struck a horse, costing it a potential placing, Veitch said the stewards likely would have declared the horse a non-starter for wagering purposes. Betting refunds on that horse would have been issued. Veitch speculated that only in the case of a catastrophic collision would the race have been declared a no-contest.

Track employees were in the process of taking down all the umbrellas on the track terrace when the incident occurred, but the gusting winds that hit the track came so quickly that they could not be removed in time, Veitch said.