Monday, February 16, 2009

Jockey Vitek returns from cancer treatment


Feb 16th, 09
A winner of 739 career races, including the 2000 Golden Rod Stakes (G2) aboard Miss Pickums, jockey Justin Vitek is very familiar with the thrill of returning to the winner’s circle after an exhilarating victory.

On Saturday at Turfway Park, Vitek finished last in his first start in nearly a year but experienced one of the biggest triumphs of his life.

Vitek was diagnosed with myelogenous leukemia on February 16, 2008. After his first round of chemotherapy, Vitek’s cancer is in remission and he said his doctors told him to “go live.”

"After I went into remission, they told me there was a 60% chance it would come back. Now the odds are about 40%,” Vitek said. “I guess that makes me 40-to-1."

He started exercising horses in the mornings for trainer Ted Drury Jr. in November at Skylight Training Center on Oldham County, Kentucky. Vitek rode regularly for Drury for two years before his diagnosis and on Saturday at the Florence, Kentucky, track he made his return aboard Model’s Memo.

The four-year-old bay filly broke slowly in her first start in seven months and was bumped at the start. Model’s Memo finished last of seven in the six-furlong allowance/optional claiming race, but Vitek was just happy to be back in the saddle.

"It felt great," Vitek said. "She broke a little tardy and got slammed, so it kind of took her out of her game, but it was the first time back for both of us. I wasn't nervous, but I am excited. I wanted to get back not just for myself but for all the people who helped me do it." Thoroughbred Times