Andrew Lakeman, an exercise rider and occasional jockey for Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, thought he’d overcome the greatest challenge in his life: his addiction to alcohol and drugs. Then he was paralyzed from the chest down in an accident at Belmont Park, May 25th, 2007.
On Friday afternoon at Saratoga Race Course, Lakeman will wheel into the paddock to saddle Thisskysabeauty, the three-year-old colt he owns and now trains, for the second race, a maiden grass route. “He gave me a life, a reason to get up every morning,” the 36-year-old Lakeman said.
Lakeman, who is from Sunderland, England, had worked for Michael Dickinson, Nick Zito, D. Wayne Lukas, Barclay Tagg and Tom Skiffington, before finding a home with Jerkens. Lakeman was nine months into his recovery from his alcohol and drug abuse when he went down in a gruesome accident at Belmont. His mount, Our Montana Dream, clipped heels with the horse in front of her, hurling Lakeman to the ground face first. Then he was struck by a trailing horse. He fractured three vertebrae in his neck, broke his sternum in two places, and suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung.
A long hospitalization and rehabilitation was complicated when Lakeman slipped back into his self-destructive habits, but he overcame that and pronounces himself clean for nearly the past two years.
“I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to train,” Lakeman said. “After the accident, my parents wanted to take me home. They said, `You don’t have to prove yourself to anybody. You should relax.’ I said, `No. I never gave myself a chance to become a good rider because of the alcohol and drugs.’
“I was thinking how can I get horses to train, and I was reading a book one day about Elliott Burch (a third generation Hall of Fame trainer),” Lakeman said. “He said how he got started. He bought his own horse. I said, `That’s what I’m going to do.’ I make my own decisions. I don’t have to answer to anybody.”
Lakeman purchased Thisskysabeauty, a son of Sky Mesa who had sold for $73,000 as a yearling, for $40,000 a year ago to launch his training career. “He’s a big, beautiful horse,” Lakeman said.
When Thisskysabeauty bucked shins as a two-year-old, Lakeman gave him time off.
In his debut as a three-year-old at Aqueduct, January 29th, Thisskysabeauty finished third by 10 ¾ lengths on dirt. When Thisskysabeauty came out of his first race a bit lame, Lakeman again gave him time to recover. “He had heat in his right front ankle,” Lakeman said. “We found out he had a small stress fracture in his cannon bone.”
Thisskysabeauty had surgery to insert a screw in his cannon bone and resumed training
He returned to the races July 10th at Belmont Park, finishing seventh by 10 ¾ lengths in a field of nine in his turf debut. “I needed to get a race into him, so I put him in that turf race at Belmont Park,” Lakeman said.
That race was seven furlongs. Friday’s is at a mile and three sixteenths, and Lakeman is confident the only horse he trains will relish stretching out in his third lifetime start. Lakeman hopes Thisskysabeauty’s success will convince owners to give him a shot with their horses.
Regardless, Lakeman believes he has found his purpose, saying “I’m where I’m supposed to be in my life.”
Photo by Adam Coglianese
(Bill Heller’s latest two books, “Above It All; The Turbulent Life of Jose Santos,” and “Captain Free-lance; The Check Is In The Mail,” are available exclusively at www.billhellerbooks.com.)