Saturday, July 10, 2010

Global Hunter Takes a Detour to the Winner's Circle, Via Surgery at Alamo Pintado

It was a game finish to the American Handicap at California's Hollywood Park on the Fourth of July. While the rest of us were on the barbeque and fireworks circuit, a nice racehorse was being pulled up after winning the race by a neck. They called it a "bad step" in the racing press. In spite of the win, a nice horse became a statistic, and almost a fatality.

Global Hunter never made it to the winner's circle. The veterinarians took over and the Grade 1 stakes winner was vanned that night to Dr. Doug Herthel's Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, California. That's a long van ride; Los Olivos is north of Santa Barbara. But it was worth the trip.

Radiographs apparently showed that the horse dislocated his fetlock but did not actually fracture his leg, although I am sure more detailed images have been taken now, and the surgeons may have found some damage. Virtually all the racing publications, web sites and TVG reported that the horse went into surgery at Alamo Pintado under the care of Dr Carter Judy, and that he seemed to recover well afterwards and was standing on all four legs. Dr Carter's surgical repairs used plates and screws to realign and stabilize the lower limb.

Now begins the vigil. A Global Hunter Facebook page immediately popped up and will hopefully keep a flow of news available to those who care about the horse

Global Hunter is a seven-year-old Argentine-bred son of Jade Hunter who has done well racing in California. The Grade II American Handicap was a turf race.

About the joint: The fetlock, or metacarpophalangeal joint,  is a relatively straightforward joint that flexes and extends with the changing segments of the horse's stride. The cannon (third metacarpal) bone meets the long pastern bone (proximal phalanx) and the knob-like proximal sesamoids to form this joint. A small sagittal ridge between the condyles (rounded ends) of the cannon bone creates a sort of stabilizing bar within the joint so that it only opens and closes in a flex-extend acceptable range of motion. This ridge and the condyles of the cannon bone sit perfectly into the joint cavity created by the long pastern bone. Such a nicely designed joint architecture is held in place by a network of short, tight ligaments that prevent both side-to-side motion and dangerous knuckling forward of the joint. In addition, the two proximal sesamoid bones are points of attachment for the branches of the suspensory ligament (interosseous) and the deep digital flexor tendon rides across the back of the two sesamoids. In summary, the fetlock is much more than a mere joint: it is an intersection of both soft and bony tissue and one of the most critical structures for both weightbearing and locomotion.

Global Hunter will no doubt remain at Alamo Pintado for the time being. The hospital made this video available about its fracture repair services. While Global Hunter's injury may not technically not a long-bone fracture, the process to repair it is similar to the fracture repair and surgical processes detailed in this video, so I thought I would share this. He is a lucky horse, but we will find out in the weeks to come just how lucky. Maybe someday he'll make it back to the winner's circle at Hollywood Park for his win photo from the Fourth of July.

To learn more: An excellent paper on the structure and function of the fetlock joint and the how-and-why of injuries in racehorses is Articular Fetlock Injuries in Exercising Horses by Elizabeth M. Santschi DVM of the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University. It is published in Performance Horse Lameness and Orthopedics, Volume 24 No. 1 (April 2008) of Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice.

Video courtesy of Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, California

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