The jockey colony gathers before each day’s racing card to say a prayer together for their collective safety in the upcoming races.
Often they include injured riders in those prayers, colleagues who’ve been hurt during morning workouts, during a race or even in the gate as the race is about to take place.
It is a matter of course, part of the routine in the daily life of the men and women who ride thoroughbreds and quarter horses for a living.
In recent days, they have included former jockey Bobby Walker, Jr., in those daily supplications. The 53-year-old former rider gave up his quest to reach 3,000 career wins, just 19 short of the goal, and returned to Canterbury as a jockey agent this meet, picking up Nik Goodwin and Justin Shepherd as clients.
It had been an OK summer, with the usual ups and downs, gains and setbacks, typical of many lives on the racetrack.
Then, a few weeks ago, Walker began experiencing back pain. When it didn’t subside and started to become worse, he sought medical advice and was diagnosed with kidney stones. He underwent the associated medical procedure for such ailments.
He got no relief, so he sought a second opinion, at a second hospital.
“They told me I had testicular cancer,” he said on Thursday from his room at Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina.
Walker would prefer to be home in West Monroe, La., with family and friends but is prevented from going anywhere until his blood count shows improvement. “And when all the infection is gone,” added his daughter, Brittany, who was at his side.
Even the trip home raises issues, however.
Walker will need medical transportation of some kind and that will cost between $5,000 and $10,000 out of pocket, which the family is trying somehow to raise.
“Louisiana Downs is planning on trying to do something, trying to put together a fundraiser with the jockeys of some kind ” said Brittany, who is also working on having shirts stenciled to sell on her father’s behalf.
Walker made his first visit as a rider to Shakopee in 1986 when he was riding a barnful of good stock, most of it for Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, who was the leading conditioner at Canterbury Downs the previous, inaugural year. In those days, Walker rode largely at AkSarBen in Omaha, Neb, and Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La.
“He was a very good rider,” said Canterbury Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens, who has known Walker since 1988. “I first rode with him that year at Louisiana Downs,” Stevens recalled.
Walker established himself as a reliable, journeyman rider, steadfast in his trade. “He was a very good rider who had a very good career, but he is also a very good person,” Stevens added.
Thursday Walker was dying to drink the glass of orange juice in front of him. “I’d really like to,” he said, “but I’ve been getting medication and my stomach’s so bad.”
He has undergone seven treatments and will need at least one more before he will be stable enough to travel. He is positive about the future. “I think I definitely have a decent chance, but I’ve had some setbacks,” Walker added. “Not everything’s gone the way we hoped.”
Thursday he underwent a blood transfusion. “He’s pretty sick,” Brittany said. “But we’ve had lots of support from the racing community, from around the entire country. Make sure everybody knows how grateful we are for that support and for their prayers. We appreciate it more than we could ever explain.”
Brittany said the family hopes to transport her father from Fairview Southdale to a hospital in West Monroe sometime next week if doctors are satisfied with his condition at that point.
BY JIM WELLS