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A day at the races
Belmont Stakes veterinarian stands watch on 2,000 Thoroughbreds, nervous trainers and relentless security check points;but her instinct and experience guide recommendations


"Once in while we'll have a horse fall in the paddock, we'll scratch the horse, and the trainer and owners are disappointed because the horse looks fine walking back to his barn. We'll get a call later thanking us for scratching the horse because they've actually fractured their ribs or withers. There are many things to take into consideration, and experience helps our immediate response. Horses can be unpredictable, and that's one of the reasons why there needs to be a vet present everywhere the horses are."

Gearing up for the bell

Kunz observes the racers in the paddock as they are walked and saddled and then follows them out to the racetrack. There is a veterinarian at the starting gate, finish and in a chase vehicle, manned by Kunz, or one of her staff, Drs. Jennifer Durenberger, Anthony Verderosa, Barbara Greene or Jamie Motler. They observe the horses in the post parade to ensure they warm up properly and as they load into the starting gate. The veterinarian at the "wire" watches for each horse to gallop out after the race and canter back sound. A veterinarian is driven in the chase car to monitor and respond to any incident or injury that occurs during the race.

Kunz will be assisted by an EMS group with human ambulance in case of jockey injury. Kunz is driven to the starting gate to observe the horses as they approach and enter the gate, and as the race begins, the chase car follows behind the horses to the finish line to monitor the horses for soundness after the race.

But her day doesn't slow at he finish line; she observes the horses as they canter back to the finish line after the race. She observes them as they are unsaddled and walked back to the barns.

As a precaution at the ready, there are three Kimzey Horse Ambulances stationed around the racetrack. They are equipped with medical equipment, including compression boots and splints, pharmaceuticals, oxygen, alcohol and ice water, and "ArcticHorse" blankets. These blankets, created from material originally designed for human burn victims, are placed on horses to avoid heat exhaustion. The ambulances are hydraulic, powered electrically, and can maneuver over any surface. There is no rear axle, so the floor can be lowered to facilitate the loading of an injured horse. There are skylights that make the interior brighter and less threatening to the horse, and a movable partition restricts the horse while the ambulance is in motion. The NYRA owns five horse ambulances, which are distributed among its three racetracks, Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga. For Belmont Stakes day, one from Aqueduct was borrowed to make three available.

"It is very, very rare, that we need two ambulances in a single race, but the precaution is taken just in case," she says.

Home stretch

Luckily, the Belmont Stakes ended without incident, though it likely had little to do with luck and much to do with the care and expertise exhibited by Kunz and her veterinary staff. Lost in the Fog, the nation's leading sprinter, won his seventh-consecutive race in the $200,000 Riva Ridge, a Grade II for 3-year olds at seven furlongs.

Afleet Alex romped by seven lengths to win the $1-million Belmont Stakes to the joy and enthusiasm of 62,274 cheering fans. He passed the entire field at the quarter pole, running the final quarter mile in a record 24.5, not done since 1969 by Arts and Letters. Was it the patience of his jockey, Jeremy Rose, the 411/42 miles he jogged and galloped the Monday before, the heart of a champion racehorse or a lift from Alexandra Scott, the little girl that seemed to have buoyed horse, jockey and trainer? Maybe all of the above, but for Dr. Kunz and her staff, it was just another day at the races.

Dr. Kane earned his doctorate in equine nutrition and physiology from the University of Kentucky in 1978. He works within the animal-feed industry with a specialty in horses.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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