`It was just a simple fall . . .'

 

It was a bread-and-butter race at the Fairyhouse Festival in March of this year. Two talented Irish jockeys, Francis Woods and Shane Broderick, saddled up to ride in the second-last run of the day. Broderick was on board the 10year-old horse Another Deadly and his friend Woods was riding Living It Up. They were racing for a prize of £7,000 over two-and-a-half miles and 14 fences. Regardless of the outcome, each rider would earn £76 for the fiveminute race.

Woods thought the ground was pretty good but Broderick felt it was a little hard for his horse. Still, as top riders they easily adapted. Both jockeys were used to getting on board difficult horses of which they'd little experience and neither animal had a bad reputation.

Woods described his horse at the beginning of the race as running "very free with me, living it up". He passed the stands sitting second or third before dragging himself to the front. According to the jockey, the horse was jumping the fences "very quick," but going down the hill from Ballyhack to the ninth fence, Living it Up went down on him. It fell.

"I was eight or ten lengths ahead of Shane. I'd enough time to get myself into a ball, well clear of the horses behind. I could hear them coming and as I rolled out of the way I could hear Shane. He was slagging me.

"Ah, Woodsy," he shouted. "You're a lunatic."

Jockeys often talk to each other during a race. They know how their horses are going and occasionally they would encourage someone else to overtake them. Up and down the country three or four times a week they keep meeting each other. They fall out and they make friends. Broderick's call was meant as a comfort.

The first ambulance arrived and Walter Halley, the Turf Club medical officer, jumped out and walked over to the grounded jockey.

"Are you ok?" he asked.

"Yeah," replied Woods "Are you sure?" said Halley.

"I said I was fine and as we were talking, he turned and said: `There's another one down at the next fence.' I got into the ambulance and Wally jogged down the track. I didn't know who it was. I couldn't see the colours.

"I was sitting in the ambulance drinking water when the second one drew up and I could see that Wally was working on the fella on the ground. The driver hopped out and I followed him over. I thought someone had done in their collar bone or something.

"Shane was lying there . . . he wasn't moving . . . he was this grey kinda colour. I'd never seen it before in anyone who'd ever had a fall. It was like his whole system had locked up. There were five or six people around him, Order of Malta people, and I could tell they were anxious. I tried to speak to him. I tried to get him talking, but I could see that he was hurt. I could see that he was badly hurt."

Shane Broderick had broken his neck and had badly damaged his spinal cord.

The actions of Walter Halley and those around him had saved the 23year-old's life. Not in 25 years of racing in Ireland, since Paddy Mellerick fell in 1972, had a jockey received such serious injuries and survived.

The American actor Christopher Reeves, himself the victim of as serious a riding accident, heard of the jockey's fall and recently sent a personal message of solidarity. Reeves's unwaveringly positive attitude is nourishment, Shane says.

"He said he's convinced. That's the word . . . convinced that neither of the two of us will be in wheelchairs for an awful lot longer. During the next few years there will be a cure. That's what I'm looking forward to. He says he's convinced because they've made so much progress now, progress that they did not think they'd be able to make five years ago," says Shane.

Long days spent lying in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire make it a dull place. Shane has done his time and he would like out. He charts his life in a series of small progressions. His prerogative is to believe in the future, to constantly believe what the days ahead can offer him. Moving into the house he plans to build in Tipperary will be another step towards the regeneration process. More momentum.

Over £650,000 to support his recovery has been raised to date through the Shane Broderick Fund and his mother, Mary, unbreakable by his side, has moved to Dublin from Tipperary to be with him daily. It will be months yet before the hospital can be left behind.

"It was a simple fall," he says. "I just fell the wrong way. The horse made a mistake and fell . . . I just hit the ground with my head. The ground was too hard. The horse wasn't handling the ground. It was too hard for him. That was it.

"I'd have had loads of other falls, a lot harder than that. It was the way I fell. I knew when I hit the ground I was paralysed. I couldn't feel a thing from the neck down. It frightened me, yes it frightened me. I knew. I knew something wasn't good and it frightened me."

Solicitor Andrew Coonan, an amateur jockey and one of the principal figures involved in the Shane Broderick Fund, has watched the race on video over and over.

"We see these falls all the time. Some of them are absolutely horrific and we are all standing around in the weighing room to see if the jockey's okay. The damage is normally done when half a ton of horse flesh travelling at speed comes down on you. Shane's fall looked straightforward. The horse had a bad fall - Shane didn't. He was fired well clear of his horse. Francis's fall on the fence before looked heavier than that of Shane," he says.

Shane is off the ventilator and he can speak and communicate in much the same way as before the fall. A step forward. Refusing to be seen as a tragic figure, he draws on the same qualities that had already made him a jump jockey who had achieved every horseman's goal of riding a winner at Cheltenham - courage, fortitude, vigour.

But Shane is still young. There is also the unknown, the justifiable fears and a life before him that he has not yet been able to truly fathom.

"It's not that bad really. You have all your senses. If it was a head injury or something, you're a lot worse . . . I haven't got any movement back yet. It's a case of hoping. I haven't my mind made up about what I hope to do . . . I don't know."

This week a young horse was sold at Goffs for £1.2 million. The foal may grow into anything but a fast runner. Nobody knows. The fact that champion Sadlers Wells is the foal's father indicates that it will have a good chance of having the same genes that makes it run. It's a gamble.

When and if the horse grows up and starts to race, it will be insured for millions of pounds. If it breaks a leg or gets kidnapped and shot like Shergar, the owners will come looking for compensation. If it becomes a true champion it will be retired to stud and if it's a male, its sperm will be sold at tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds per shot.

When Shane fell on Another Deadly and the extent of his injuries was made known, a hat was passed around the racing community.

Their response was exceptional.

But that was the extent of his insurance - and that of every other jockey. He had no real insurance cover for such an eventuality. When the group first met to establish a fund that might cater for Shane's condition their first reaction was why? Why do we need to be doing this? Why in 1997 should we be relying on charity?

Those outside racing are less circumspect, more outraged.

The nod or wink that gambled £1.2 million on a foal this week would satisfy the needs of Shane Broderick for life, yet there was absolutely nothing for him. Zilch.

People explain this anachronism by the nature of jockeys themselves; that they only live for the life, they see only the next race, the run at Cheltenham or the good ride. They don't think about mortality.

In a sport that is only bettered by Formula One racing in its ability to attract cash-rich followers, the archaic notion that horses will be insured and jockeys will not could also be seen as an omission bordering on scandalous. Is Michael Schumacher insured for a crash? Eddie Irvine? Of course they are. If the jockeys didn't think of it or couldn't afford it, then what about the owners, the bigger trainers?

The Jockey Insurance Scheme in place is incapable of providing the sort of cover for injuries as severe as those Shane suffered. It was designed to help jockeys who break limbs, not necks. When Mellerick fell in 1972, a trust was set up but it did not generate anything like the necessary finance to look after a serious condition.

"This time we've all had to dig in. But you can't keep going round the same people all the time. You can't rely on a whip-round, a cake sale, £1 on a race card," says Coonan. "Passing the hat is no good."

A recent phone call to Coyle Hamilton for a quote on insurance put the premium at £60,000 per annum for cover. For serious injury the jockey would receive £200,000 and if killed, the policy would return £25,000. The £200,000 figure is five times too little to cater for a serious neck injury.

The cost of the foal - £1.2 million - is what is needed.

That is not to say that Shane isn't overwhelmed by the generosity of those who gave the trust money. Coonan, David Pim, Walter Halley and John McStay got the fund running, and there are dozens of others. Some owners have privately donated five figure sums, others have given of their time.

The task ahead is to agree to get a scheme organised that is adequate. Agreement between the Owners' Asociation and the Jockeys' Association is in place and £100,000 per annum from the owners is secured. The nuts and bolts have yet to be decided but Coonan's hope is to have a fund in place that will be properly invested and growing all the time. No more charity.

For now, Shane makes do with the index finger on his right hand which he can voluntarily move. It is almost imperceptible, but it moves for him. It may not seem much for the former jockey of Doran's Pride, who along with Danoli grew into one of the most charismatic horses in Irish racing, but it is on such things that he builds his days. He continues to love racing and hopes to end up around horses in Tipperary on a couple of acres of land.

"I still watch the racing. Mick Hourigan's are flying. I don't have any interest in anything else, really."

In the ward, well-wishers come over to say hello. A elderly woman puts a provincial newspaper on his lap, smiles and walks away. Trainers have come to wish him well, betting office owners, total strangers.

"It was frustrating early on," he says. "Not anymore. I mean . . . it is at times . . . it is frustrating. It's gone well so far . . . my patience. "But it takes time."