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Doctor points to economic changes

May 15, 2008|Sandra McKee | Baltimore Sun

Few people have the perspective of Dr. Larry Bramlage on horse racing's current situation.

Bramlage, of the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., is a 29-year veteran of racing medicine. He was the on-call veterinarian at Pimlico for the Preakness in 2006, when Barbaro was injured. He served in the same capacity at Monmouth Park during the 2007 Breeders' Cup, when George Washington broke a leg and had to be euthanized.

He also was the medical chief at Churchill Downs on May 3, when Eight Belles broke both her front ankles.

Recently, in a phone interview, Bramlage addressed those who are questioning the sport in light of recent events.

"I think we are approaching crisis on two levels," he said. "One, a crisis in public confidence in racing. And two, I do believe we've disregarded durability long enough that it has become a crisis.

"We used to reward horses for long careers by making them stallions. It used to be that the longevity and the number of races a horse could run and his on-track earning ability was rewarded. Now, the economics have shifted. The focus is on the big events and horses that have brilliance in those premium events are rewarded and they carry a premium.

"You see it in all sports in society. The playoffs in baseball, the NCAA tournament with 65 teams instead of four. It's not just Saturday and Sunday like it once was, it's a month. The football playoffs are nearly a month. The bowl season. It's the big events that people want to see.

"So horses that have brilliance in the premium events, people will pay extra for them because they're looking for ability to perform at the highest level. . . . What we're seeing is a less durable athlete with potentially more ability and a lesser degree of soundness."

Bramlage also said:

"Injuries will increase. . . . The horse still has to give an indication that something is wrong. There are no lameness meters."

"Although we are better equipped to stop a horse from having a major injury before it happens, because we have more tools and because we are better at it, we are only holding the status quo."

"Micro-fractures occur in a horse's leg and then they ossify, making the area stronger. It's an ongoing process. During exercise the micro-fractures may get overloaded, undermining that particular horse's ability to repair. You have no knowledge of it unless they accumulate enough to create lameness. . . . It's like a porcelain coffee cup with a little crack and nothing ever happens. You use it for a year and then, you happen to hit it just right. The crack propagates and you get a major fracture."

"Saving horses to be put in the field is not practical. With horse abuse and . . . human slaughter, there comes a place where you have to say the best alternative is euthanasia. If we save him, there is no one to feed him."

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sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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