Kaylia Albright: For injured jock, “a long road back”
by Jim Hague
There’s an old saw that folks who ride horses also fall off them. So maybe what happened to Kaylia Albright was inevitable.
The 26-year-old jockey’s life took a turn Dec. 20, when disaster struck while she was exercising a horse at Penn National.
“I was on my way back to the barn, when the horse I was on went from jogging to flipping over,” Albright said. “The horse landed on top of me. My foot got stuck in the irons, so that’s how I got hurt even worse.”
Fellow jockey and friend Cassidy Burg, an apprentice at Penn National, was on the track when the accident took place.
“I was right next to her and I saw the horse flip right over on her,” Burg said. “As soon as she hit the ground, I knew she wasn’t doing too well. It was really hard to watch.”
Albright was rushed to Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, where she was treated for her serious injuries.
“My pelvis was broken in three places,” Albright said. “My ankle was broken in two places. I also broke my heel. I had internal bleeding that had to be taken care of first before anything else.”
Once the internal injuries were taken care of, Albright underwent what she called “pretty extensive surgery” to repair the breaks and fractures.
Burg went right to work in an attempt to help her good friend.
“I think Kaylia went out of her way to help me when I moved here for good last February,” said Burg, who has won 57 races and amassed a little more than $1.2 million in purse earnings since she started racing in 2016. “There are only a few of us (female jockeys). A lot of the time, I’ve been by myself. But when I came here (to Penn National), Kaylia and I hit it off right away.”
So Burg, who will be an apprentice until April, did what she could to be of assistance to Albright.
“As soon as she was stable in the hospital, I went to see her,” Burg said. “I put together a care package of things she might like. Everyone knew of the severity of her injuries, but I had to go and check up on her and see where she’s at. We have a good community at the race track. Everyone wants to help out and see what they could do.”
Burg remembered that, in the wake of severe injuries to another area bug rider, Jenn Miller, who was hurt in a November spill at Charles Town, the racing community had set up and supported a GoFundMe page to help raise money to help Miller in her time of need. Burg thought it would be a great idea to do the same for Albright.
“I knew that Jenn Miller and Kaylia are friends,” Burg said. “When you’re not racing as a jockey, there’s always some sort of financial difficulty. It’s always a struggle to make ends meet. Kaylia helped other friends in their time of need, so I thought people in the racing community would want to help her now.”
Burg set up the GoFundMe page for Albright just before Christmas. So far, the GoFundMe efforts have helped to raise $3,350 for Albright. Burg set up a lofty goal of $10,000.
“The response has been incredible,” Burg said. “People have been so great and generous. It shows the kind of support that she has getting through these tough times.”
“Cassidy has really been there for me,” Albright said. “She brought me brownies the first day.”
“It’s going to be a long road back for Kaylia,” Burg said. “She’s going to be out of work for some time, so anything people can give will help.”
A life in Thoroughbred racing
It’s safe to say that Kaylia Albright was destined to have a life in Thoroughbred horse racing.
She was literally born into the sport, despite her early dabbling in rodeo and barrel racing, developing a love for horses every step of the way from the first time she climbed on a horse when she was just six years old.
Albright’s grandmother, the late Dona Albright, was a veteran thoroughbred horse trainer. Her uncle, George Albright, is a respected owner and trainer. Her mother, Amy Albright, was a jockey and became a trainer when she retired from racing. It was all in the Albright family.
Kaylia was 21 and an exercise rider when she decided — somewhat reluctantly at the time — to become a jockey. That was thanks to her grandmother.
“At first, I really didn’t want to be a jockey,” Kaylia Albright said. “But I was fortunate enough to ride a lot of her horses. I also rode some for my uncle and some for my mom. (But) My grandmother was the one who really got me started.”
The Jonestown, Pa. native began her apprenticeship as a jockey in 2012, and she found instant success. With just the second mount of her career, on July 13, 2012, Albright took Smokin PK to the winner’s circle in a $10,000 claiming race at Penn National. Needless to say, Albright was immediately hooked on the thrill of the race.
Since that time, Albright has been a regular at Penn National, winning 277 races and earning $5.5 million in career purses. Her best year came in 2013 when, mostly still riding with the apprentice allowance, she won 100 races, earning just shy of $2 million in purses.
“I don’t think anything will keep me from coming back”
There’s another old saw that once you fall off a horse, you have to get right back on it. That’s what Albright is aiming to do.
She remained in the hospital until about a week ago. She has been spending time with her boyfriend, fellow jockey Angel Suarez, watching movies. She cannot put any weight at all on the ankle.
“I’m beginning to feel a little better, but I’m still in a lot of pain,” Albright said. “I’m very lucky to have so many people supporting me. They all have my back and I can’t thank them enough for their generosity. I’m trying to reach out to let people know how much I appreciate their care for me.”
Albright wasn’t sure how the GoFundMe efforts would work.
“I didn’t think it would work, but people are really being so great with their help,” Albright said.
Albright will soon concentrate on her grueling rehabilitation. Doctors told Albright that her recovery will more than likely take five months or longer.
“I know it’s going to become a major part of my life,” Albright said. “It’s part of the business. I know things like this happen. But as long as I don’t get any other injuries, I don’t think anything will keep me from coming back.”
Burg is a believer.
“I have no doubt she’ll be back,” Burg said. “She’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. I think this has been a huge help for her to see how many people care about her. She’ll be back as soon as she can.”
“I think all jockeys are determined to get back,” Albright said. “It’s everyone’s goal to get back. I want to get back. I’m hoping to get back in five months, but we’ll see.”
“The racing community is very close,” Burg said. “Everyone is rooting for Kaylia.”
And doing what they can to help.