By Greg Douglas – Dr. Sport
SCENE & HEARD: As jockeys go, Jeffrey Burningham is The Bionic Man. But unlike the science fiction Hollywood hero with super human strength, Burningham is for real.
“A couple of years ago I just about killed myself,” the 47-year-old Montreal native says. “I had a collapsed lung, five broken ribs and suffered a severe concussion when I went flying over a rail and went head first into a steel post after my horse took a left turn. Doctors told me I’d never ride again.”
Recovery didn’t come easily. Over the ensuing months Burningham worked intensely with physiotherapists and kinesiologists on a frequent basis. He simply refused to believe the career he loved so much was over.
“Now I’m galloping 15 horses every morning and getting four or five mounts on race days,” he was saying following not one but two longshot victories last Monday.
Burningham won the 6th race with We Are Free ($25.40) for trainer Terry Clyde and the nightcap 8th with Red Buffalo ($23.60) for Jean Lavallee’s first training win of the season.
Jeffrey told the Vancouver Sun in a 2016 interview: “The moment you enter the gate there’s an adrenaline rush that comes over you. It only gets better when you’re able to cross that finish line ahead of the rest of the field.”
He credits his wife Lacie with sticking by him through thick and thin. She was an important cog in the recovery wheel as a dedicated trainer prior taking on new challenges this year under Racing Secretary Nichelle Milner in the Hastings racing office.
“Lacie has been my biggest supporter,” he says. “We agreed a long time ago there’s no looking back; just keep going forward and do what you have to do to survive.”
Jeffrey prides himself on being his own agent, negotiating mounts with owners and trainers. “I think I have a reputation of being easy to get along with,” he says. “I give them an honest effort every time out and they appreciate my work ethic. It’s a two-way street.”
Comforting words today, no doubt, from a guy who’d been told by doctors not many years ago that the road he was traveling as a jockey had hit a dead-end.