by Mike Henry

Alice Cartwright and Huber Villa-Gomez, the two most seriously injured jockeys in a four-horse spill Feb. 6, have started galloping horses and could return to competition within the next several weeks.

The 28-year-old Cartwright, who suffered a fractured occipital bone at the base of her skull when her mount fell and threw her to the track, began galloping horses Wednesday for trainer Dennis Ward and breezed a horse four furlongs this morning.

The native of Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England, is awaiting clearance from her doctor to ride races and is optimistic she will be back in action for the start of the Monmouth Park meeting beginning May 9.

“The fracture has healed and the doctor said I should be able to go back to the way everything was before,” said Cartwright, who also incurred a concussion and wore a halo brace for eight weeks after the accident. “A friend of mine said I looked like I had never left the saddle. It felt just like normal, other than being a little sore after not riding for nine or 10 weeks.”

Cartwright’s parents came to Tampa and spent two weeks with her after the accident. They initially expressed reservations about her decision to continue, then supported her choice fully. “They know how much I love it and that what happened hasn’t scared me,” she said.

Cartwright remembers nothing of the accident, “which is probably the best thing. It happened so fast,” she said.

“The racetrack and everybody here have been very supportive, and I appreciate what everyone has done to help,” she added.

The 39-year-old Villa-Gomez suffered a fractured L1 vertebra when his mount fell over Cartwright’s horse and threw him to the track. He was in a back brace for several weeks. His agent at Tampa Bay Downs, Therese Powers, said Villa-Gomez plans to head from Oldsmar to Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., where he shared the riding title with Pablo Morales in 2011.

“He is getting on horses and feeling good, but he is going to play it by ear and see how much he can do (before scheduling his return to race-riding),” Powers said.

The other jockeys involved in the incident, Antonio Gallardo and Janelle Campbell, were spared serious injury. They took off the rest of their mounts that day. Gallardo, the track’s leading jockey, rode two winners the next afternoon. Campbell, the track’s leading apprentice jockey, returned to action the following week.

Three jockeys injured in a March 21 spill at Tampa Bay Downs, Keiber Coa, Ricardo Mejias and Silvia Zapico, continue to recuperate from their injuries. Coa suffered a broken left collarbone, while Mejias broke his left collarbone and three fingers. Zapico underwent surgery the day after the accident to repair a broken right femur.