OFF THE PACE: CATCHING UP WITH Vince Halliday
The Equibase chart comment line “clipped heels, fell” was succinct in describing the incident involving the horse ridden by jockey Vince Halliday in the eighth race at Delaware Park on July 15, 2021. Unfortunately, his medical chart following the accident has been anything but succinct.
He suffered two brain bleeds, a cervical disc fracture, three thoracic disc fractures, a fractured left scapula, a right elbow fracture, blood clots. He spent two weeks in the ICU and underwent heavy sedation, intubation, and insertion of a stomach PEG; these are just some of the injuries and procedures resulting from the fall.
When I caught up with him after one of his daily therapy sessions in early January, I was struck by the fact that the first thing he did was to acknowledge the contributions of fiancée Stephanie Pastore to his recovery.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is what a partner has to go through,” he said. “If it weren’t for Stephanie, I would have been sort of screwed.”
In the race, which was a bottom-level maiden claimer, Halliday was aboard Tua, a then-three-year-old Normandy Invasion filly trained and owned by Jose Rodriguez. His mount clipped heels and fell, and another runner, Commission Actress, struck the fallen runner.
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The accident was so severe that Halliday said he has limited “memory of the first two weeks of recovery.”
As he became more aware, he was relieved to learn that his mount, Tua was uninjured. He also had to come to terms of what lay in front of him. On a one-to-ten scale, he said he feels he is “about at a five” in terms of physical recovery.
With the removal of the PEG, he is once again taking nourishment by mouth. The accident and recovery have given him a renewed appreciation for the simple things in life. Among those, he said, is “taking my missus out for something to eat and drink.”
The aptly named “Vince Halliday Strong” page on Facebook, which was the idea of Parx photographer Nikki Sherman and Stephanie, enables the family and friends of Vince to stay up to date with his daily progress.
He is taking a sufficient amount of time to recover.
“When I get back, I know I will be under a microscope, so I don’t want to let myself or the people I am riding for down, by not being 100%,” Halliday explained.
His short-term goal is to advance from being on the Equicizer to graduating to breezing in the morning. He “is hoping to be back breezing by the end of February.”
But he is cognizant that the recovery process can “throw you some curveballs,” he said, so this plan “is not cut in stone.”
In addition to Stephanie, two things have helped him tremendously during this long, arduous process. The first has been the generous support of the racing community. The second has been the mental toughness he forged in his youth on the tough streets of his native Northern Ireland.
Over the years, he’s needed it. During a career that began in the US in 2009, virtually every time Halliday has begun to build momentum, he’s been dealt an injury setback. His best season in the saddle came in 2019, when he won with 14 of 158 mounts.
In the face of this latest injury, there have been more than just physical setbacks. When Stephanie’s family leave time expired, for example, she lost her job.
Yet Halliday says the whole ordeal has not only toughened them but has also reaffirmed their appreciation of “how wonderful people can be.”
A “Help Vince Halliday recover” Gofundme page started by trainer Jennifer Shannon has helped in that regard. It has raised more than $35,000.
Halliday’s independent streak has led him to serve as his own agent and at times, he said, has led him to be “a little too blunt.”
But it’s serving him well now at a time he’s working to recover and is anxiously looking towards getting back to the track and representing the trainers and owners who have utilized him in the past.