Najair succumbs

'Jolly Man' Najair succumbs to injuries

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

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Veteran jockey Vassell “Jolly Man” Najair died yesterday morning, 12 days after sustaining injuries from an unfortunate incident which took place just before the start of the seventh race at Caymanas Park on September 26.

He was 65.

Najair underwent surgery at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) two days later and was said to be responding to treatment even while he remained in critical condition, but he succumbed to his injuries and the trauma associated with it just after 4:30 am.

Janet, who had been married to Najair for 34 years with three children — Natalie, Nicole and Orville, and seven grandchildren — said his passing has been very hard time on the family.

And she was not happy with the timeliness of medical treatment tendered to her late husband when the incident occurred.

“The report from the hospital was that he died from the head injury that he received during the incident at the track and the trauma. The quicker you move the patient to tend to his injuries is better because time is of the essence when there is a traumatic accident. And he was there on the ground for a few minutes before he was taken up,” she said.

“They [promoter] ran the race before he was taken up off the ground and that had a lot to do with what happened. Yes, that had a lot to do with the outcome. The welfare officer, Bev Lawrence, called and I spoke with her today (yesterday). But I have not heard from any other personnel from the racing office. But even after the incident no one called to find out how we were coping with the incident,” she continued.

“Well, can't say much more than am taking it hard as we knew each other since we were teenagers. It is much more than a great loss being around each other for some 50 years, but life will go on,” a heavy-hearted Janet told the Jamaica Observer.

The incident happened when Perfect Asset, with Jerome Innis astride, bolted from behind the gates. It is understood that Najair, who was near to the winners' enclosure at the time, stepped out onto the racetrack to assist in guiding Perfect Asset through the opening leading down to the entry and exit tunnel, directly in front of the stands.

However, the horse did not go down the tunnel, but instead veered right, running down the bridle path with Najair following. The extremely fractious horse then turned around and lashed out at the jockey who was hit several times. He was attended to by race-day medical personnel before being rushed to hospital. He was not riding on the day and had suffered lacerations to one of his ears and some noticeable head injuries.

Meanwhile, Chairman of Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Limited (SVREL) Michael Bernard said that the racing industry has lost one of its stalwarts who will be greatly missed.

“The entire racing community regrets the unfortunate and untimely loss of a stalwart. He [Vassell Najair] has been around for many years, a lover of horses and so forth and certainly we extend our condolences not only to his immediate family, but also his family of racing because he was well known in the industry.

“Regrettably, he died expressing his interest where the injury took place, whilst he was actually engaging himself in a practice to control a horse. Although I must admit at the time, unfortunately, he was not doing it [control a horse] in the capacity as an employee, but whether or not, we have lost someone who is a major contributor to the sport,” Bernard said.

SVREL, the local promoter of horse-racing, on the behalf of the management and staff of the company, later expressed condolences to the family of Najair.

“We are very saddened to hear of Mr Najair's passing,” said Major Hugh Blake, SVREL CEO. “He was a very popular and well-loved horseman who gave a great deal to the sport. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family at this very difficult time,” he continued.

His sentiments were echoed by Bernard. “This is indeed very sad news, which is sure to be felt across the industry. We will certainly keep his family in our prayers,” he said.

Shane Ellis, president of the Jockeys' Guild, said his organisation had just started its new initiative — jockey's cookout — and while present at the gathering, it was there they got the sad news about Najair's demise. And while they were “saddened” by the news, they immediately engaged in a moment of silence and prayer for their fallen colleague.

“We as riders were having a jockey cookout where the jockeys come together and we cook some food and thing when we got the news that Vassell Najair had died. It was just a sad moment for all of us. We had a moment of silence and a word of prayer for him.

“Every morning at exercise we would run our jokes and thing and Jolly [as he is popular known] would always say that he is the fittest jockey on the racetrack. He was one of the outriders on the track each morning. It is sad news to hear what had happened to him, and he will be missed by all of us in the racing industry,” Ellis said.

Najair, who has been riding since the 1970s, came through the famed apprentice school of trainer Eileen Cliggott (now deceased) along with Donovan 'Bug' Lindo and Karl Brown, among others.

He recorded his last winner on August 7, 2017, aboard the Peter McMaster-trained Ras Emanuel. He rode 278 listed winners from a total of 2,756 rides.

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