[AusRace] Sounds fantastic, but...

Race Stats RaceStats at hotmail.com
Wed Nov 20 14:55:17 AEDT 2019


Len,
After his retirement as a jockey, he turned to the trots as a driver where here was involved in a horrific race fall.
The sulky catapulted him into the air and he broke both legs.
He survived that too and went on to interview jockeys on Banjo, before he was replaced several times.
I do miss Lettsy's interviews on Banjo.
Lindsay


From: Racing [mailto:racing-bounces at ausrace.com] On Behalf Of L.B.Loveday
Sent: Wednesday, 20 November 2019 1:39 PM
To: 'AusRace Racing Discussion List'
Subject: [AusRace] Sounds fantastic, but...


"I'm not sure he even saw me and I was in no real state to get out of the way. As he went past he caught my chin with his elbow and there was a crack like a branch had snapped. I felt an incredibly sharp pain and was really frightened for what had happened, as I was sure I'd broken my neck again.

"The friend I was with heard the crack too and had to grab hold of me as I was headed for the floor. It took a few seconds to gather myself and to realise I hadn't done any more damage and then a few minutes later and I stood up straight with no pain for the first time since the accident.

"I'm not a religious man but it was like someone upstairs had said to the bloke 'Go and fix him up' - and he did.
"I've never had a moment of trouble with my neck from that day onwards.


The million to one incident that changed the life of dual Melbourne Cup winning jockey John Letts

He was told he'd never walk, let alone ride again. He went on to win another Melbourne Cup. But you won't believe the million to one incident that got him back on his feet.
Craig Cook, The Messenger
Subscriber only
|
November 20, 2019 8:26am
[Million to one: John Letts' remarkable life.]
Million to one: John Letts' remarkable life.


John Letts was South Australia's most popular jockey at the peak of his powers with a Melbourne Cup already in his saddlebag - and it all changed in an instant.

A horrific race fall 45 years ago saw 'Lettsy' rushed to hospital where doctors told him he would never walk again, his career was over and he would be a cripple for life.

But a million-to-one chance saw the 'Punters Pal' back to his riding best.

It was just another mundane provincial race meeting at Gawler in the summer of 1974 that would have catastrophic consequences for the then 30-year-old jockey.
[Melbourne model Jasmine Chilcott with John Letts with the Melbourne Cup in Surfers Paradise earlier this year. Picture: Glenn Hampson]
Melbourne model Jasmine Chilcott with John Letts with the Melbourne Cup in Surfers Paradise earlier this year. Picture: Glenn Hampson

He was riding a horse called Weneta, and even today you have to remind him of the name of the horse because he has a complete block about the incident.

"It was the last race of the day and we were travelling nicely in third behind a couple of leaders when the horse in front had a heart attack at full speed," he says.

"There was no warning. I had about a hundredth of a second to react and that wasn't ever going to be enough time.

"Six of us fell and somehow, I ended up under the dead horse. How I got there I'll never know. That's all I can tell you. Everything else I know about that day has been told to me by those who were there."

Jockey Michael Domingo rode in the race and was lucky to avoid the carnage. He sat in the back of the ambulance with Lettsy all the way to the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

"Mick told me later that the St John's man had told him, 'Your mate's not too good. He's stopped breathing ... there's not much hope,' Letts says.
[John Letts with his horse Banjo at Flemington. Picture: Stephen Harman]

John Letts with his horse Banjo at Flemington. Picture: Stephen Harman

"They had to pump at my chest to start me up again. I've got a vague recollection of having to gasp for air in the ambulance and then I remember being wheeled in under the bright hospital lights.

"Well I think it was the hospital lights, or they could have been those lights people see when they are about to make the final journey because that's how serious it was."

Gaining consciousness a few days later, John's mother Georgina was holding his hand when he came around.

She began to explain that he had broken his neck in a fall and the doctors had told her he would be a quadriplegic.

"That's when I squeezed her hand and she jumped right off her chair," Lettsy adds.

"The doctor was a bit surprised too and said, well he might not be a quadriplegic, but he'll probably never regain the use of his legs."

John's injuries were horrific with a smashed rib cage and three fingers.

Most vital of all there was a partial fracture of the odontoid bone which connects the skull to the spine. If it had split completely it could have severed his spinal cord. It was all very dicey.

"I couldn't move I just had to lie there for weeks on end with two sandbags either side of my head to keep it still," he adds.

"One silly move and I would have been wheelchair bound for good."
[Recovering in the Royal Adelaide Hospital jockey John Letts listens to the races on his transistor radio, August 18, 1974.]Recovering in the Royal Adelaide Hospital jockey John Letts listens to the races on his transistor radio, August 18, 1974.

Riding horses has been Lettsy's life since leaving school at 13 and there was a good chance they'd be the death of him but he was determined to get back in the saddle.

He endured almost six months in hospital waiting for his body to heal before finally being discharged.

He didn't waste any time working on his own rehabilitation. When he first went in to see the specialist to get a clearance to ride again he was told it would be at least two years before he could contemplate getting back in the saddle.

He didn't let on that, despite a heavy brace on his neck and limited flexibility and movement in his arms, he had already been trotting around on the back of a pony at that stage.

Remarkably, he still won the state's top rider award for the 1973-74 season and was photographed in his brace.

What happened next was unseen by doctor and patient but miraculously saw John back riding in a race within six weeks.

"I was over at Caulfield for a day at the races during the Melbourne spring," he adds.

"I still had this surgical collar on my neck and wasn't moving too smartly but at least I was walking which was a big step from where I was seven months earlier.
[Injured jockey John Letts holds the trophy he received as the State's top rider for the 1973/74 season. Letts received special permission to leave hospital to attend the ceremony.]
Injured jockey John Letts holds the trophy he received as the State's top rider for the 1973/74 season. Letts received special permission to leave hospital to attend the ceremony.

l was stood in the betting ring - which I shouldn't have been as a licensed person - but I didn't think too many would recognise me in my get-up when I saw this bloke running through the crowd straight at me.

"He looked desperate about getting a bet on and only had eyes for the bookie's stand he was headed for.

"I'm not sure he even saw me and I was in no real state to get out of the way. As he went past he caught my chin with his elbow and there was a crack like a branch had snapped. I felt an incredibly sharp pain and was really frightened for what had happened, as I was sure I'd broken my neck again.

"The friend I was with heard the crack too and had to grab hold of me as I was headed for the floor. It took a few seconds to gather myself and to realise I hadn't done any more damage and then a few minutes later and I stood up straight with no pain for the first time since the accident.

"I'm not a religious man but it was like someone upstairs had said to the bloke 'Go and fix him up' - and he did.

"I've never had a moment of trouble with my neck from that day onwards. I'd love to thank the guy who ran in to me - but I'm sure he'd be totally unaware he even hit me. I hope he got the bet on - and it won at 50/1."
[Racehorse trainer Colin Hayes (left) with Robert Sangster and his wife Susan and jockey John Letts after winning the 1980 Melbourne Cup on Beldale Ball.]Racehorse trainer Colin Hayes (left) with Robert Sangster and his wife Susan and jockey John Letts after winning the 1980 Melbourne Cup on Beldale Ball.

Remarkably John was riding trackwork within a week and just another five weeks after that was ready to face his demons with a ride in a race.

The venue was Cheltenham racecourse just down the road from where he was born and where he first learned horses don't have handles.



His first ride back was a victory on Red Camellia.

"I could hear the crowd cheering from the time we hit the front all the way to the line," he says.

"They really wanted me to win and that meant so much and they clapped me all the way back in and it didn't stop until l jumped off.

"I've never experienced anything like that and it is something I'll never forget. I'm not an emotional person at all but I'm not too proud to say I had some tears at that moment.

"It's the only time I've ever shed a tear at a racetrack.

"All I ever wanted to be was a jockey and I was so happy to be back.

"By crashing into me that punter did what the specialists couldn't do. He cured me. From that day on I knew I was in for big things."
[Dual Melbourne Cup winning jockey John Letts holds the cup aloft in the Kakadu National Park during the Melbourne Cup Tour.]Dual Melbourne Cup winning jockey John Letts holds the cup aloft in the Kakadu National Park during the Melbourne Cup Tour.

Big things included winning the Melbourne Cup a second time on Beldale Ball in 1980 after a first win on Piping Lane in 1972.

All in all John Letts, inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2010, won more than 1000 races, before retiring in 1988, after being told he would never ride again.

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