Tragedy on the track

Tragedy on the track

AAEP 'On Call' veterinarians provide expert commentary to media when colt suffers fatal injury at Breeders' Cup
Dec 01, 2007

Tense moment: George Washington, a 4-year-old colt, is restrained after suffering a leg injury. (Photo: A-Z Communications)
OCEANPORT, N.J. — When an equine injury or death occurs at a racetrack, especially during a high-profile event like the Breeders' Cup Championships, accurate reporting of health-status issues to the public is critical — perhaps as important as dealing with the injury itself, says one of the nation's leading equine veterinarians.

Larry Bramlage, DVM , MS, Dipl. ACVS and a partner in Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., was one of two experts serving as American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) "On Call" veterinarians at this year's Breeders' Cup races at New Jersey's Monmouth Park racetrack Oct. 26 and 27.

He and the other AAEP "On Call" expert, Dr. C. Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD, FRCVS, DSc, Dr. med vet (hc), Dipl. ACVS, a professor of surgery and director of the Orthopaedic Research Center at Colorado State University's College of Veterinary Medicine & Biological Sciences, were there to provide accurate veterinary information to broadcast and print media during the live-network races.

Raising the curtain: Breeders' Cup track workers hurriedly set up a screen to block the view of spectators while the injured horse, George Washington, was euthanized and taken away by ambulance. (Photo: A-Z Communications)
That role thrust them to the forefront of a huge media event near the end of the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic — the featured final race on the second day of the rain-soaked event — when George Washington, a 4-year-old Irish-bred colt, pulled up in the stretch with a severe injury to the right front leg and was immediately euthanized behind a curtain, as Preakness winner Curlin continued on to win the race by 4.5 lengths.

The horse suffered a lateral condylar fracture of the distal metacarpus, with a dislocated fetlock joint and biaxial proximal sesamoid bone fractures, and the wound was open, McIlwraith tells DVM Newsmagazine.

Veterinary expertise: AAEP "On Call" veterinarians Larry Bramlage, center, and Wayne McIlwraith, right, with Breeders' Cup Panel observer George Mundy, DVM. (Photo: A-Z Communications)
"Before the horse could get pulled up, his fetlock dislocated and destroyed the soft tissue on the back, which destroyed the blood supply, so there was no oxygen for repair. It was open into the dirt, so it's contaminated, and you can't get antibiotics there because you don't have a blood supply, and you don't have blood to support repair," Bramlage explains. "It has to do with the horse's anatomy and how really little blood supply they have in the lower part of the leg."

As the colt, bred by Barbaro owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson, held up its injured leg, workers set up screens to block the view of nearly 42,000 stunned spectators and managed to load the horse into an ambulance behind the screens.

George Washington had dropped from fifth place at the half-mile point to seventh at the time of his injury.

"Typically, these injuries occur in the last part of the race," McIlwraith says. "The horses are more fatigued, so have less support to the joint."

The horse was used to running mostly on grass in Europe and had earned more than $1.4 million racing there for owners Susan Magnier of Ireland and Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith of England.

The Monmouth Park track was a sea of mud during both race days.