The unexpected death Wednesday of jockey Alex Canchari was the latest in a series of tragedies for his family.
“It’s a very sad situation,” Terry Meyocks, president and CEO of the Jockeys Guild, told Horse Racing Nation on Thursday. “For him and his family, it’s been a really tough three years.”
In 2020, Canchari’s brother Patrick was ”going to work a horse and go into work in the morning at Turf Paradise, got in a car accident, was paralyzed and had head injuries and was having seizures,” Meyocks said. “His father passed away two years ago. That was a very tight-knit family. Just very unfortunate.”
Meyocks said Canchari’s sister Ashley has “had the weight on her shoulders the last three years making sure Patrick’s taken care of.”
Ashley Canchari said in a Facebook post Thursday, ”I’m so sorry you were in so much pain Alex and thought there was no other way out.”
Alex Canchari’s death, and the death in January of jockey Avery Whisman, are indications that the industry needs to pay attention to the mental health of riders and others in racing, Meyocks said.
“It’s the world today, all the issues with the world and inflation,” he said. “Just from a horseman’s perspective, jock’s perspective, Hall of Fame jocks win at 18, 20 percent. That means they lose 80 percent of the time. And jocks are struggling now. Alex, the last time he rode was in October of last year at Prairie Meadows. I think his winning percentage was 14 percent. But that’s 86 percent of the time, they lose. They work horses in the morning, try to get mounts in the afternoon, they get taken off, they probably are yelled at by the horsemen after races for getting beat – not all the time, but sometimes.”
He said the Jockeys’ Guild, with support from the Stronach Group, arranged presentations for its members by After The Impact, an organization that provides support for those with mental health and substance abuse problems.
Meyocks said the Jockeys’ Guild has has been “very much involved” with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Administration for the last several months, “and it’s on their radar screen too. They hired Dr. Pete Hester, who’s the chief medical director, and Lisa Lazarus, it’s very much on her bucket list dealing with us and what our priorities are. It’s a concern.”
The pressure on riders is a sign of the times, Meyocks said.
“Our industry is different now. The foal crop’s down, and there’s less opportunity to race and shorter fields. It’s very tough being a rider. Same thing with horsemen, but I think our industry needs to do more. Just consider how we talked to people, worked together. When I was a kid growing up, or when my dad was, it was more of a camaraderie, closer-knit people. I think we’ve gotten apart from that. We need to be working together to do what’s right for our industry and what’s right for individuals.”
He related a personal example of how the racing community has changed.
“I had a brother who died when I was 2 years old, he was 6. And horsemen came to my dad, he was an agent over 50 years, and basically said, do you need any money or help, what can we do to help? And horsemen, back in that era, when one had trouble getting from track to track they would help each other. I think we’re missing that. We’re missing the camaraderie and the closeness, and I think that’s a role today. I just think we need to think about individuals and their well-being. It’s a tough enough game and then you get inflation going on and the foal crop down and short fields. We can all do a better job in helping one another.”