Tuesday 19 September 2017
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Interview with Nelson Medina, Former Jockey and Guild Rep

Interview with Nelson Medina

Interviewed via E-mail by Tricia Psarreas on February 25, 2008


Nelson Medina was an accomplished jockey along with a friend of Shane Sellers for many years. Medina made a life changing decision one day in 2001 when he gave up his status as third leading rider in the standings in order to save his own life and that of his family’s. Now finally with an opportunity to speak openly and honestly, Nelson Medina has a few things to say. 

Tricia:             How do you know Shane and what is your relationship with him?

Nelson:           I met Shane in 1987 when we were both riding at Fairmount Park in Southern Illinois. We not only rode at Fairmount Park but also rode together up in Chicago at Hawthorne, Sportsman’s Park and Arlington Park. We hit it off right away and we’ve been friends ever since. He’s a very classy person, and I’m glad to call him my friend.


Tricia:             What was it like being married to a fellow jockey?

Nelson:           I feel that it’s wonderful because she knows all the crap that I go through and I know all the crap she goes through with owners, trainers, agents etc. If I’m having a problem with a horse I might go to her for advice and the same with her if she is having problems with a particular horse she knows she can come to me.  One thing about horses just when you think you know them they change.  You never stop learning when dealing with horses.

Tricia: As a former Guild representative, was it easy to make changes for your fellow riders?

Nelson:           At times … But when you needed your fellow riders to stick with you, they would end up backing off. It got very frustrating at times.

                        As a jockey rep it is your responsibility to listen to the concerns of your fellow riders and you are the one that goes before track management or the racing board to discusss the concerns.

What happens and this is what happened to Shane, is all of the jockey’s are gun ho that you are going to management or the racing board on their behalf. Until the management or racing board threatens with an ultimatum, then, your fellow riders run for the hills and leave you hung out to dry. This is exactly what happened to Shane and I can sympathize with him as I went through it myself as did my wife just maybe not a publicly as Shane.

Tricia:             Did you have to go to any extreme measures to maintain your weight?

Nelson:           Yes I did. I usually had to pull four or five pounds every day. It just runs your body down. Not being able to eat when you are starving and hungry; surviging on nothing more than a couple of Slim Fast shakes for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes one for dinner before going into the jocks room to get ready to ride. Finally in the evening after coming home from the evening racing card I would finally get to eat some real solid food which usually consisted of a single boneless, skinless chicken breast and a handful of vegetables.

I was lucky that I was one of the riders who didn’t have to heave (vomit) but I did use Lasix and Ex-Lax on occasions. At Arlington Park, I was taking Lasix and it was hot. I passed out and I almost died. They had me in the emergency room for hours and I stopped taking pills right then and there.

I also spent many hours in the hot box and whirlpool every single day. Sometimes for up to three hours at a time.

I honestly believe that had I continued down this road of starving and reducing myself, I wouldn’t be writing this response to you now.


Tricia:             Did you ever see jockeys cheating the scales, and if so, how did they do it?

Nelson:           We all did a little, some more than others.  Some clerk of scales if they saw that you were really trying to drop the weight they would let you slide with a pound here and there.  I always tried my best to do the weight that I put down.   But it does happen yes... 


Tricia:             Do you support Shane’s fights regarding jockey weights, endorsements, and insurance?

Nelson:           Yes, most definitely. I believe that in this day and age, horses should be able to carry more weight. People nowadays are bigger boned than they were back in the old days, and horses are much sturdier in this day and age, as well. I’ve seen horses breezing in the mornings carrying exercise riders who weigh an excess of 150 pounds, and the horse came back sound. I’m not saying to put the scales at 150 pounds, but to raise the weight to 120-125 pounds the horses would return just fine. 

Tricia:             What ultimately made you want to stop being a jockey?

Nelson:           In 2001 I happened to walk into our local post office to mail a package and saw that they were hiring. At that moment I asked for and  filled out the  application.  A few weeks later they called me for an interview and was hired. I said "I’m tired of reducing and riding races for 24 years with nothing to show for it.  No health insurance no benefits, and abusing my body to the extreme with nothing in the future.  Here when we first become jockeys we sign away our rights of self promotion to the tracks and they can’t even help out the jockey guild to provide health insurance benefits for them and their family’s.  I walked away on my terms I was doing good I was third leading rider in the standings.  The guild kept making and breaking promises of health insurance benefits but after so many years and still nothing, even the race track managements quit helping the guild with money for our health insurance.  In 2000, the Jockey’s Guild finally told us we needed to go out and get our own health insurance because of the rising cost they could no longer afford to help us out.


Tricia:             How do you feel about Shane revealing some of the problems in the horse racing industry in his book?

Nelson:           I feel that it was about time that someone spoke up.  Because there have been a few riders who have died in the past few years due to reducing.  I believe I read that one was sitting at his kitchen table having his morning coffee before heading out to the track for morning work outs and he just slumped over and died. They did an autopsy and it revealed that his body was so dehydrated and that his heart had just given out due to all the reducing he did.


Tricia:             Is there anything else you would like to add?

Nelson:           Yes. I would like to see changes in the racing industry where management helps out the Jockey Guild to get health insurance for the riders, and they do raise the scales of weights to a more reasonable requirement of 120 to 125 pounds. Yes, I know that there will be arguments that this might bring out exercise riders and convince them they can become jockeys. But let’s be honest. How many owners and trainers are going to actually ride an exercise rider on their horses when they can for the same price get a well qualified, seasoned jockey? I’m not by any means knocking exercise riders, but it’s hard enough for a good seasoned jockey to get decent mounts and make a decent living.

Thank you Shane and Trish for giving me the opportunity to give my honest opinion on this matter. Shane, I wish you the best of luck with this book, brother. You are doing a good thing. God bless you both.


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Price: $29.99