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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Breeders Cup Tragedy: Interview with Wayne McIlwraith, AAEP "On Call" Veterinarian for ESPN

The following is part of a transcript of an interview with Dr. C. Wayne McIlwraith of Colorado State University by Eric Wing of the Breeders Cup press office, in response to the breakdown and subsequent euthanasia of the 2006 European champion Thoroughbred stakes horse George Washington in the Breeders Cup Classic at New Jersey's Monmouth Park two hours ago:

ERIC WING: We are live in the interview tent right now. We have with us Dr. C. Wayne McIlwraith, the (designated) On-Call veterinarian of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. We saw George Washington was eased late in the race. Can you give us an update on what is going on with George Washington?

DR. McILWRAITH: George Washington sustained an open fracture of the cannon bone in the right front fetlock joint and disarticulated the joint at the same time and had both sesamoid fractures broken. So it was a hopeless injury as far as repair, and he has been euthanized.

ERIC WING: Is this anything that can be attributed to a sloppy racetrack or not?

DR. McILWRAITH: No. You know, there's been no comparative work done scientifically as far as the nature of the track. You know, at times, a sloppy racetrack at the end of the day, you could have some concerns, because they are running in the base; and then obviously the base is not made for them to be running on directly; like it was a very sloppy track. You know..the rest of the races have gone off well, but it's always a concern.

Q. It looked, watching the race, as a spectator, that George Washington was maybe having a little trouble negotiating the course early on. He seemed to be struggling, at least relative to the other horses. Is there any knowledge whatsoever about when during the course of the race this injury might have occurred?

DR. McILWRAITH: Well, typically these injuries occur in the last part of the race. They are more fatigued so they have got less support to the joint. And that's when the injuries normally occur. As you know, he's -- I think this is the first time he's raced on a dirt surface. And he could have had trouble with being less coordinated on that, as he's used to racing on grass; those are possibilities.

(continues)We generally consider these fractures to start as associated with earlier damage, so they can sustain a small degree of damage and then it can escalate into a fracture. So it is quite possible, especially when you have a horse that's relatively inexperienced at that surface and racing on a different surface.

We talk a lot now about investigating the cause of these fractures, minor incoordination or just not landing on the leg as exactly the same way as a horse that's completely used to that surface does.

ERIC WING: Were any of the three owners or trainer involved in the decision prior to euthanization, or is it an open-and-shut case, pardon the term.

DR. McILWRAITH: The decision was made very quickly. Aidan O'Brien was on the racetrack with the horse right after it happened and he requested euthanasia.

Q. I wish to point out, George Washington raced in the Classic at Churchill last year, but races on grass and switches to a track with a lot of water and slop, does it have any meaning, meaning is this a bad example?

DR. McILWRAITH: You mean a bad example to switch it to a sloppy track?

Q. Are you saying it's not a wise move that it should be or should not be done?

DR. McILWRAITH: No. I was being asked for sort of possibilities as to, if you can have contributing factors, and you can certainly have many contributing factors. But, no, I certainly did not imply that it's not a wise move.

ERIC WING: I don't mean to take you outside your field of expertise or your focus today, but as an onlooker and an observer, can you characterize in any way the emotions of Aiden O'Brien or the owners from where you stood?

DR. McILWRAITH: Well, we weren't there. (Dr. Bramlage) and I, we were across the racetrack. So we have no -- we weren't present for that. But I'm sure he's extremely upset about it.

ERIC WING: Doctor, as always, we appreciate your expertise and your speed in getting in here and updating us on the situation. Thank you very much.

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