While the closing weekend of the Alameda County Fair is usually a festive affair for all, the mood around the racetrack Friday afternoon was anything but.
“This is not the way we wanted to start today,” Chaplain Chris Belluomini said during a brief moment of silence ceremony held Friday afternoon in honor of Jorge Herrera, a
Herrera was thrown off a horse that clipped heels with another competing horse. Officials say Herrera suffered major head trauma and was taken to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, where he was later pronounced dead.
Herrera’s fellow horse jockeys and other members of the racing community gathered in the winner’s circle at the Alameda County Fair racetrack at about 12:45 p.m. His peers held a portrait of Herrera as members of the audience lowered their heads in respect.
“The race track family is a family, literally,” Belluomini said after the moment of silence. “When one guy gets hurt or passes on, it affects everyone. Each one of them feels it.”
“It’s with heavy hearts that we’re doing stuff today,” added Dennis Miller, the county fair's racing publicist.
“People travel from fair to fair. You’re around each other on a daily basis, so it’s a big family,” said Miller, a longtime member of the Bay Area horseracing community. “Everyone who’s associated feels like you lost somebody that’s in your family.”
Russell Baze, the most winningest horse jockey in U.S. history, also joined the horse racing community at Friday’s fair.
Baze told reporters that he had watched replays of the unfortunate incident several times and that Herrera’s death “was nobody’s fault at all.”
“It’s just one of those things that can happen in a race,” Miller said. “It’s the nature of the beast. I don’t think you’re going to find a jockey anywhere in the world that doesn’t understand the dangers of what can happen on the track.”
Some race attendees shared the sentiment.
“It’s certainly an occupational risk that [jockeys are] well aware of. It’s like going in to the military; you know what you signed up for,” said Frank Gonzalez of Union City.
The last death of a jockey — Juan Gonzalez — that occurred at the Pleasanton race track was 37 years ago in 1975.
According to race officials, Herrera was no novice. He started his jockey career at the Los Alamitos track in southern California in 2004 and competed in more than 1,000 races.
His first winning race was at Portland Meadows in 2005, the same year in which he won 31 races. According to Miller, his biggest year was in 2007 in which he won 14 races and earned close to $200,000 for his winnings.
Herrera rode at the Pleasanton track from 2007 to 2009 and made his return to the local fairgrounds this year.
He competed in four races during this year’s fair, riding once on the Fourth of July and twice on Thursday.
The fourth race on Sunday will be held in his memory, Miller said.