CITRA, Fla. — Remi Gunn, 47, remembers making her move aboard Betty Sue on Aug. 6, 2003, at Ellis Park Thoroughbred Race Track in Henderson, Ky. The horse in front of her was tiring. It staggered in front of her mount and tripped her.
The horse behind her tried to jump Betty Sue. “My horse tried to stand up,” she recalls. Gunn was bowled over and the horse landed on her.
Betty Sue suffered a cut on her ankle and returned to action. Remi Gunn severed her spinal cord, suffered a brain injury, and remains paralyzed from the chest down. “My arms have very little balance,” she says.
Track insurance covered $100,000.
“The problem is they think a jockey’s life is only worth $100,000, and that doesn’t come close to paying for a catastrophe,” she says. “I was under the impression I was covered by the racetrack. That the racetrack would take care of everything.”
She sued and in an out-of-court settlement received $200,000, after lawyers’ fees. “There was no way I was going to win a lawsuit against Churchill Downs,” says Gunn, who averaged around $45,000 annually in 13 years of racing.
“I need that money for groceries. I need it for everything.”
She lives on her mother’s farm in north central Florida. She says she had to send two of her four children away. “I just couldn’t handle them. My back hurts. I take a lot of pain medication.”
What bothers her most is the inactivity, the lack of exercise, and weight gain.
“I used to work three jobs a day,” she says. “Ponying, galloping the horses, and racing. I was a workaholic. I had a lot of nice things, an expensive horse van, cars. We had 30 horses. And it all came to a screeching stop. I had absolutely nothing.”
Doctors told her she would need $2 million to cover her medical expenses for the rest of her life. She says Blue Cross Blue Shield unceremoniously dropped her.
“I was hurt in August, dropped in November. I couldn’t afford to live.”
Jockeys from all over the country scraped together $1,500. “It’s a very tight-knit family,” she says. “It was really a blessing because the jockeys came through. I’m still laid up. There’s a few bills I’ve had to put off. The $1,000 [from the fund] buys food, clothes for my kids, and pays the electricity bills.
“I don’t care too much for the horse business. It’s a hard game with too few thank-yous. The horsemen stab you in the back. It’s a very ruthless business and I don’t miss it.”