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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


Dr. John Halley, veterinarian for trainer Aiden O'Brien, requested that the horse be euthanized and the screen was set up.

"There wasn't any point in going on, so rather than even trying to splint him and load him, they just euthanized him immediately," Bramlage says.

Desensitizing the public to the injury was one of Bramlage's and McIlwraith's objectives in describing to reporters what was taking place.

"If you give them the information and the prognosis, they don't leave the telecast with those vivid pictures as they did at the 1990 Breeders' Cup where there was no one officially to talk about the injuries or the horses. All they could do was show the pictures over and over, talking to people who were not very well equipped to discuss that scenario," Bramlage says.

"Our whole job is to have people leave the telecast remembering it for the races, not the injuries," he adds. "I think we accomplished that. The right information puts people's minds at ease and sometimes even if the news is bad, they can feel bad but don't continue to agonize over it."

Need for accurate reporting

Over time, Bramlage and McIlwraith say they've come to a better understanding of what the media need and that the press has learned to trust them. "One thing we veterinarians never talk to each other about is which leg got injured," Bramlage notes. Because the On Call doctors usually are not at the scene, but communicate by radio with those in the horse ambulance, they discuss only the type of injury, what structures are likely to have been involved, giving them a basis to offer a prognosis and probable treatment.

"When you go to the reporters, the first thing they ask you is which leg?" says Bramlage.

"We are reliant on getting good information from the track and must have it quickly, because we've got reporters there, especially TV," says McIlwraith. "We don't want to go on television and say that it was a fixable injury and everything's fine and two days later they find out that it wasn't."

During the several races, the On Call veterinarians have to watch for injuries, and with the Breeders' Cup that means a fast turnaround, with another race occurring about every 30 minutes. "Sometimes you don't finish reporting on one injury before the next race is going off," says Bramlage.

"We've gotten quicker at this scenario, but as we get quicker television demands that we get quicker still. We still have to inform the media and above all be accurate. It's a system we can't foul up."

"That's part of our success," adds McIlwraith. "When we first started this program, we had to become accepted and achieve credibility with the press. Now that we've got that, they look for us as soon as there's an incident. That's good because it means the program has become well recognized and people want to hear from the veterinarians. We just have to be accurate."

Earlier at this year's Breeders' Cup, the NJRC veterinarians jogged and examined entrants prior to all races. Post-race drug testing was done on the first four finishers in each race, along with certain others selected by the track stewards. There were extensive procedures at the quarantine barn for foreign horses.

Two other Breeders' Cup Panel veterinarians on duty besides Verderosa were Dr. Robin White, from England, and Dr. Tim Connor, of California. The panel is set up to have doctors representing both the east and west coasts, and the European Union.

Other NJRC veterinarians working were Dr. SueAnn Bennett, Dr. Barbara Greene, Dr. Diane Simoncini and Dr. Kathy Picciano.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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