Day At The Track

Leading reinsman sprints to rescue driver

12:47 AM 14 Jul 2013 NZST
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James Stormont wearing his familiar Todd Mitchell
James Stormont wearing his familiar stable colours.
Duane Ranger photo
Todd Mitchell

Racing stewards praised the heroic efforts of top reinsman Todd Mitchell after he chased and caught a horse whose unconscious driver was being dragged after a sickening crash.

James Stormont was knocked out when his horse American Angel hung out badly on the home turn of the Starfish Pace at Alexandra Park on Friday night, clipped the sulky of a horse alongside, crumpled in a heap, and rolled over the top of him.

Mitchell, right in behind driving Ucanifuwant, narrowly escaped being struck by Stormont's sulky as it flipped. He fell sideways out of his cart, somehow regained his feet immediately, and started to chase after his horse.

But turning to see Stormont tangled up in the mangled sulky of American Angel, who was running uncontrollably, he went to his aid.

"I could see him folded up over the sulky bar and I thought he was dead. The cart was upside down and he was like a rag doll."

American Angel swung round in a wide circle high up on the track, with Mitchell in pursuit, and then ambulance staff joined in the chase as they realised what was happening.

Just as Mitchell thought he wasn't going to catch the horse, as it headed into the infield in a blind panic, it inexplicably turned towards him.

"I was getting tired but luckily I think the horse was just as tired and I caught it just before it ran into a concrete storm drain."

Stormont's helmet had been ripped off and Mitchell said he didn't want to think about what would have happened had Stormont hit the concrete at full speed.

Stormont was unconscious when ambulance staff arrived and could remember nothing of the incident. Grazed, bruised, and very sore, he was taken to hospital with concussion.

CT scans in hospital overnight confirmed Stormont had no head, neck or spinal injuries, a friend, Michelle McGregor, said.

"He has internal bruising and bad memory loss. He can't remember anything that's happened in the last six weeks."

Stormont, who was also kicked in the head by a young colt four months ago, is expected to be discharged today.

Stipendiary steward John Muirhead said Mitchell's actions almost certainly prevented a disastrous outcome to one of the worst crashes at the Park in years.

In a chain reaction, Jay Abernethy, driving God Forbid, was flung high out of his seat, incredibly landing in the sulky of the horse beside him.

The hot favourite, valuable filly Lincoln's Megastar, missed being brought down by centimetres but, as driver Maurice McKendry took evasive action, he locked wheels with Gold Elite, whose driver, champion junior Simon Lawson, was tipped out of his cart.

Lawson showed great courage to keep hold of the reins as he was dragged for more than 100 metres down the home straight.

American Angel's trainer Jeremy Young said his filly looked to have choked down on the turn, but had only "bumps and bruises everywhere", The horse was stood down for 28 days.


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