Veterinarian Phil Tripp, left, with assistant Alfonso Quintero, work at the Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo by Bill Luster, The Courier-Journal; story link below.
"Ouch!" "Zing!" "Wham-o!"
Racetrack veterinarians were under the gun last week at the Congressional sub-committeee hearing on racetrack drug abuse and breakdowns. Reading the transcript makes it clear that owners and trainers were seeking to place some of the blame for the problems in horse racing on the shoulders of racetrack vets.
To paraphrase one recent comment by a racetrack old-timer: "Years ago we had twice the horses and half the vets. Now we have half the horses and twice the vets."
Racetrack veterinarians have always had a separate reality. Unlike most veterinarians, they are bound by laws and rules and have to be pharmacologists to know how long a medication will remain in a horse's system, what the allowed levels are, and what the implications may be of a horse shipping to a different state where laws may not be the same. Ever wonder how it's possible to stable fillies and colts next to each other on the shedrow? Ask the vet.
There are two types of veterinarians at the track: practicing vets and regulatory vets, who are employed by the racing jurisdiction, usually the state. In addition to tasks related to testing horses for illegal or excessive medication, veterinarians inspect horses before races, interact with stewards, and work double-duty when an outbreak of herpes virus or strangles shuts down a track.
Consider this quote from the Washington hearing: owner Jess Jackson told the subcommittee that in Seabiscuit's day there were three veterinarians at Santa Anita and all drove Chevrolets, compared with perhaps 26 today who "all drive BMWs and Cadillacs now". (I didn't realize Mr. Jackson was old enough to remember Seabiscuit.)
Veterinarians at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky found a willing ear in reporter Jenny Rees of the Louisville Courier-Journal. Her compilation of their comments and more hits against track vets formed a feature story in today's paper. Read it here.
It seems like blame for everything in the horse world is like a big game of Tag. This month, track vets are It. Tomorrow it could be you, or me. Big Blame keeps getting passed around and around; where it stops, nobody knows.