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Tragedy on the track
AAEP 'On Call' veterinarians provide expert commentary to media when colt suffers fatal injury at Breeders' Cup


But "data over many years show there are no more ambulance runs or catastrophic injuries on muddy tracks," Bramlage says, so that was not cited as a contributing factor to the horse's injury.

"Our most visible function (as On Call veterinarians) is to address the media if there's an injury that occurs on national television," says Bramlage.

"Of course, you can't make an instant diagnosis, you don't have radiographs, you don't have a complete exam, but you can give them (media and public) a general idea of the probability of what that injury means — whether it's career-ending, how life-threatening it is and what the general approach to treatment is going to be."

Answering reporters' questions, providing expert information behind the scenes, is "in the long run ... maybe an equally if not more important aspect of the On Call program than is the immediate triage of injury," Bramlage says.

How On Call program was born

Before the accident: Irish-bred colt George Washington is walked in the paddock before the Breeders' Cup Classic race, during which he pulled up in the stretch with a severe leg injury and was euthanized. (Photo: Ed Kane)
The AAEP started the On Call program in 1991, providing media-trained equine veterinarians to respond to crisis situations and answer questions, after the death of three horses in the 1990 Breeders' Cup at New York's Belmont Park. There was no expert veterinary commentary during that telecast, leaving reporters mostly to fend for themselves. The AAEP worked with the Thoroughbred racing industry to improve future live coverage of major races, and the On Call program was born.

Since then, more than 30 AAEP veterinarians have committed their time and expertise as On Call experts, having received media training to educate reporters and the public about the care of racehorses and the specifics of racing injuries when they occur.

They include surgeons, racetrack veterinarians or DVMs who work for racing commissions.

More than 100 events each year, including Olympic events, rodeos and major shows in addition to races, are supported by one or two AAEP On Call veterinarians.

For some races, only one expert is available, but for the Breeders' Cup, McIlwraith and Bramlage have been a two-man team for some time and say it's necessary to have more than one expert present. "First, we could have two incidents going on at the same time," says McIlwraith. That happened in 2006. "Generally Larry (Bramlage) goes on television and I go to the press room, so that hopefully the press gets the correct story all at once. It has helped the reporting of these things significantly."

14-member DVM staff

At this year's Breeders' Cup, besides Bramlage and McIlwraith, a 14-member veterinary team was at the track to observe, examine and, if necessary, treat more than 125 U. S. and foreign Breeders' Cup horses, plus 100 more horses that participated in 21 races over two days.

On the final day, everything seemed to have gone smoothly, until the final race. That's when George Washington broke down 100 yards short of finishing. Jockey Mick Kinane dismounted, and the veterinary staff responded. Among the first on the scene with the ambulance were Dr. Deborah Lamparter, chief veterinarian for the New Jersey Racing Commission (NJRC) and four members of her group, Drs. Michael Fugaro, Nancy Vutz, Richard Carbone and Cathy Ball, along with Dr. Anthony Verderosa (New York Racing Authority), one of the Breeders' Cup Panel veterinarians who handled radio communications with Bramlage and McIlwraith.

Drs. Scott Palmer and Jennifer Smith, of the nearby New Jersey Equine Clinic — the Breeders' Cup's designated emergency clinic — also came to the scene with members of the track crew.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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