Animal Kingdom Leads the Kentucky Derby Trail of Tears

Animal Kingdom is finished for 2011 and 12 of 20 horses that made several early Derby watch lists are now on the shelf due to injury. That’s 60%. Is this just the nature of the beast, or can this number be improved upon? Trainers will blame breeders, breeders will blame race day medications, etc. and next year the cycle will repeat itself. Given the fact that American horses racing on turf break down 3x more often than those in other countries racing on the same surface: I tend to believe there are things US horseman can do to cut this number down significantly, perhaps even in half. But first, the list:

  1. ALTERNATION – missed the TC trail, but seems to be sound and ready for the fall
  2. ANIMAL KINGDOM – Derby winner, breaks synthetic jinx – then breaks his hock, NOT from clipping heels but rather from an ongoing issue says top vet Dr. Larry Bramlage: “Normally, no matter how hard a horse hits his leg on the ground in an accident, there is not enough force to show this type of uptake on the scan for a period of at least 10 days. This tells me that, like a lot of racehorses, he probably had a little something going on in there that he was dealing with.”
  3. ARCHARCHARCH – chipped ankle in Derby, retired
  4. ASTROLOGY – good 3rd in the Preakness
  5. BOYS AT TOSCONOVA –  hurt early at 3 and taken out of training
  6. BRETHREN – also ran in Ark Derby, hasn’t returned to track yet
  7. COMMA TO THE TOP – chipped ankle in Derby, refer to many links of mine about this hard knocker out West who was my favorite
  8. DIALED IN – off in right knee, did Zito’s light training/racing for this colt cover up, or cause unsoundness?
  9. ELITE ALEX – missed the TC trail but still healthy we think
  10. JAYCITO – injured foot
  11. MUCHO MACHO MAN – sound, ran all 3 TC races, trained further and often compared to others despite ongoing farrier problems
  12. PREMIER PEGASUS – injured, hairline fracture at Santa Anita
  13. ROGUE ROMANCE – sidelined early with fractured foot
  14. SANTIVA – disappointing TC season, but emerged sound and pointed towards fall
  15. SHACKLEFORD – longshot almost wires Derby, wins Preakness, and respectable effort in Belmont, will he contest the Travers?
  16. SOLDAT – Derby disappointment, pointed towards fall, apparently sound
  17. STAY THIRSTY – good 2nd in Belmont, lives to fight another day
  18. THE FACTOR – speedball sidelined with fractured ankle
  19. TO HONOR AND SERVE – injured suspensory ligament
  20. UNCLE MO – poor Wood effort, rare infection of liver later discovered

So, what to do – keep our heads down and figure that horses are fragile and more than 1 of every 2 is doomed at some point? Blame it on dirt when even our turf runners are dropping like flies compared to the rest of the world? Or make an effort to figure out what interventions can help us to better control this wastage? Notice I said ‘control’ not ‘eliminate’ – as all athletes, equine or human, will get hurt in competition to some degree.

You can read hundreds of other blogs to gather viewpoints on breeding, artificial surfaces, and both legal and illegal drug use, but here we’ll concentrate on proactive measures to mitigate injury risk that have proven effective in other human sports.

Or do nothing and watch another season where 1 of every 2 of your top prospects fails to reach his potential due to injury. The choice is yours.

Albert Einstein: “Doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results, is the definition of insanity.”


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on June 29, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Matt Chappell

    I was talking to an old timer today about how you never see people hoseing the legs of their horses anymore, when i first started rubbing hoses in the 80’s there was an old groom who would stand with every horse in his care for 15 min everyday cold water running on their legs, he would then spend at least ten min’s on all 4 legs with alcohol or a brace rubbing before he placed the bandages. He taught me that when you rub a horse (groom) you used the ball of your hand and a rub rag and gave the animal essentially a full body massage as well as useing a brush. I believe that both of these practices were proactive in their effect and also gave the humans a much finer grasp of their horses physical and mental state.

  2. Matt, I agree with you. We interval train at home and after every workout (including daily four mile gallops) we put every horse in the wash stall and pour ice water over their legs. This takes 20 min’s per horse but it helps you to stay on the right side of inflammation. When I send my horses to the racetrack, NO ONE does this even though the ice is free! It really comes down to the “buck is king” at the racetrack. I see it with my own eyes – no one wants to think or to do anything different than anyone else. My daily rate (for training only) is $85 and they cannot take 20 min’s to help maintain the athletic potential of my horses!

    I also use a heartrate monitor at home (as Bill knows) but do you think anyone at the track is interested in the potential of this device? NO – and I would gladly pay for them to have one! No one wants to take the time to learn or understand the use of this awesome piece of equipment. It truly boggles my mind but that is the reality of things. Unless you are a licensed trainer yourself you have to “go with the flow” as they say.

    I sometimes want to pull my hair out. My IT trained horse has been at the racetrack for the past four weeks getting hobby horsed around since we had to get used to the gate and gate approved. We have now done this thank God. He is getting at most 1 mile of gallop a day – he was doing four miles at the farm with IT workouts every 5 days. The horse must think he is on vacation! His last breeze this past weekend was 6f in 1:13.3 without the jock even asking him. He also was 8 lengths behind 3 horses that were working 3/8th’s and he caught them and passed them at the wire! A very impressive workout and he came back not even blowing. We have a race for him on July 16th weekend and the trainer wants to keep him at the racetrack until the race. I am so afraid that all of my hard earned stamina will be gone with these puff ball workouts. Trainer only wants to breeze once more before the race! Yikes. At least we agree that the next breeze will be 7f on the turf. First start will be 1 1/8 on the turf. Wish us luck!!

  3. Fantastic Bernadette, please keep us posted on his efforts at the track!-

  4. How did this drastic change from the training methods happen? I had about a 30 year lapse in following racing, just resuming following the sport with a passion about 5 yrs ago. I have heard we breed only for speed, sent the best sires overseas, breeding horses for sale instead of racing them your self, drugs, the inflated prices once the Sheik got involved and quarter horse trainer influence. I would like to hear your take on how this mess evolved. Or from any other knowledgeable horse people out there.

  5. IMO Double Jay, the culprit is D. Wayne Lukas and his henchmen, many of whom make up the top tier of today’s supertrainers like Pletcher. He brought his quarter horse ways to the thoroughbred game, landed top monied owners, and here we are today. Interestingly in his book Lukas mentioned how he never ‘worked’ horses and if one fired off a bullet work it was rider error or a loose horse – but today I consistently see him blast fast works. So he has evolved somewhat apparently. Additionally, in the Ross Staaden book called Winning Trainers, it is intimated that DWL is fairly aggressive on his ‘slow’ days that don’t make the published DRF works – approaching the 2 minute lick barrier more often than others – but copycat trainers don’t know this if they don’t do their homework – merely reading the Form only tells half the story.

  6. Edit: Soldat bite the dust, make it 13 of 20 on the sidelines.

  7. to BJ–interesting and best of luck. the trainer dilemma. Anyone have any solutions??? Nice post Bill–add derby prospect that one the derby trial to list.

  8. RR – I follow your blog as well and it is very interesting (Bill has a link to it on his website). I don’t have any solution to my trainer dilemma other than to get my trainers license but I work fulltime and really have no time to do so. I am fortunate in that my trainer is prepared to at least work with me a little. The same cannot be said for most.

  9. Just gotta say I love your blog. Before I even found it, I always that that it was weird bow little the horses worked. If a human wants to run a long distance race he works long. Why wouldn’t one do this with a horse? I’ll be very happy when I can get a trainer’s license. It will be a while as I’m only 20 but I plan to actually train my horses, not manage them.

  10. Well, my homebred made his first start today in a MSW at Woodbine going 1 1/8 on the turf. I was really worried since he has been at the track for the past 6 weeks and so was not doing any stamina works. He ran like a million bucks! Got left in the gate but then gunned it and was leading down the backstretch and into the stretch. Got passed by the two on his outside mid stretch but fought back to pass them! Another horse made a big move on the far outside and passed us late, but my horse tried like mad and tired a bit at the very end. Finished 2nd and I am over the moon with him! Just had to share.

  11. congrats BJ, do you have a race video you can post?

  12. Bill, Woodbine posts all of their races on You Tube. He was in the 10th race on July 17th, website is His name is Ron C and he is the 6 horse. You can see he got left in the gate but then ran right up there. It was a 14 horse field on a very hot day! If you go to equibase to see the results chart, you will also notice that he is the only horse on the entire DAY that did not race on Lasix – and guess what – did NOT bleed. Just proves that it can be done. I am so happy for my horse. I also have his full brother who breezed earlier in the morning on Sunday and got the bullet under a strangle hold to stay with his company (didn’t work as he was a length ahead at the wire and then opened up by five immediately past the wire). This horse is also coming off of interval training at the farm. The riders think he is a monster. You have to really enjoy the good times in this business cus you can come down to earth very rapidly – so I am still on cloud nine today LOL!

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