By Jon Lees
Germany: Four-time German champion jockey Filip Minarik has been allowed to return home but has accepted he will never ride again as a result of the fall that left him in a coma for several weeks.
Czech-born Minarik, 45, suffered brain and leg injuries when he came off a horse at Mannheim in July. The fall left him unconscious and only “50-50” to survive, he says.
Minarik says he owes his life to his wife Katja and fellow jockeys like Frankie Dettori and Patrick Gibson, who sent messages of support and helped raise £100,000 towards his care.
Minarik was allowed home last week to be reunited with his wife and four-year-old daughter Finja in Cologne and continue the long process of recovery there.
“I got home last Thursday,” he says. “It was good to sleep at home for the first time after a long four months. It was a big moment to get the family together again.
“The doctors say the whole recovery can take one year. It doesn’t mean it is going to be a full recovery, but it could be. Or I could lose 10 or 20 per cent, nobody knows.
“At the moment I can walk, which is a big thing for me,” Minarik goes on. “I left the wheelchair four weeks ago and I left the stick as well. I can walk 100 metres forward and 100 metres back in ten minutes, with a one-hour break after because I expend a lot of energy doing that.
“Being in a wheelchair was no good for me. I had to ask everybody to go to the toilet every time.”
Minarik, who has ridden 1,669 winners in Germany, was champion jockey in 2005, 2011, 2016 and 2017 (when he shared the title with Alex Pietsch). He has 14 G1 winners to his name, and spent the last three winters riding in Japan and competed in the Shergar Cup in 2019, where he rode his first winner in Britain.
The jockey was aboard Dusky Dance in the last race at Mannheim on July 3 when he was injured in the fall, an incident he remembers nothing about.
“My injuries were a broken ankle and broken bones on the left leg and a head injury which meant there was a little bit of bleeding in the brain,” he says. “That is the most difficult thing because the doctors don’t know the extent of the damage to the brain.
“The long-term memory before the injury happened is perfect but the short-term memory is a problem. I remember absolutely nothing of what happened on the day of the injury. I don’t even remember going to Mannheim.
“I have watched the accident on video replay,” he adds. “It’s no problem for me now. It’s something that could happen in any race, in a Group 1 or a bad race at Mannheim, and it did happen in a bad race in Mannheim.
“That was typical of my career to ride a 40-1 chance in a bad race at Mannheim. That is the way I won my four championships in Germany. It was the only way to beat Eduardo Pedroza and Andrasch Starke at their best.
He continues: “I expected this from the beginning – it’s part of the risks of the game that you can be injured and injured bad.
“I was very close to dying or living, a 50-50 chance. But I watched all the videos where Frankie Dettori was speaking, William Buick and all the other world-famous jockeys helping raise money for us.
“I don’t remember waking up. I have watched some videos on my wife’s mobile of it and it’s very emotional.”
Minarik works on his recovery with near daily physiotherapy sessions and swimming once a week, but knows there will be no return to the saddle . “Absolutely no chance,” he says.
“I had barely hit the ground in Mannheim when it had already been decided not to ride a horse anymore. I don’t think the insurance will let me ride in the future.
“Part of me is very sad but another part knows I’ve been riding for 20 years and it’s time to change. In five years I will be 50 years old, I have to change my life.”
He adds: “My wife saved my life. She went to Mannheim to the racetrack. She made the doctors change the hospital from Mannheim to Hanover where I woke up. In Mannheim there was no progress. The only thing in my head was to come back for my wife and daughter.”