SASKATOON, Saskatchewan -- The family of jockey Isiah Sala visited Marquis Downs on Monday, a day after the 23-year-old died from injuries sustained during a race at the track.
Eight of Sala's relatives and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Cassie Parker, made the trip from Philadelphia to the track where the Cherry Hill, N.J. native dominated his competition in his first year there.
They went to the jockeys' locker room and saw his stall, which, by late Monday afternoon, was empty.
''He wanted to be a jockey since he was 6-years-old,'' said Jamal Musa, Sala's uncle. ''I was against it. It's a hard job and there are dangers in the job.''
Sala was making the turn for home in the next-to-last race on the card Sunday when his horse, Twilight Deputy, clipped heels with Kelchinko, ridden on the outside by Rick Stevens.
Sala and his horse went down headfirst and a third horse, Don Q, ridden by Andy Scarlett, ran into the pileup.
Never regaining consciousness, Sala was put on life support at Saskatoon Hospital and was pronounced dead about six hours later.
Musa remembers how proud he was watching Sala's first race in Philadelphia four years ago.
Sala, who led the jockey standings at Marquis Downs with 49 wins, lived and breathed being a jockey, Parker said.
''I knew every time he got on a horse that he was taking a chance of getting hurt, but that's what he loved to do,'' she said. ''He wanted to do it since he was little. ... That's what made him happy. He loved the horses more than anything. If he wasn't riding them, he was watching them. If he wasn't watching them, he was reading his programs about them-- always.''
Parker was witness to that passion for more than a year, after the two met in a store, exchanged phone numbers and built a relationship from there.
''When I first met him, he wasn't riding,'' Parker said. ''He was doing odd jobs here and there but he was looking forward to starting again.''
Parker spent much of the season in Saskatoon with Sala, returning to Philadelphia for a second time on Aug. 10. That was last time she saw Sala.
''The week I was home he didn't call for two days and I was going crazy worrying about him because I know he rides the horses Friday,'' she said. ''He called my house (Sunday) morning before the accident, but I wasn't home. I didn't get a chance to talk to him. He said he would call back at 7 (p.m.). I was waiting and he never called.''
When she did get a call late Sunday, it wasn't Sala. The voice on the other end had news of the accident.
''I went numb. I couldn't sleep that night, I was up crying,'' she said.
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