Monday, January 5, 2009

Another one bites the dust.....

What an appropriate title for a post!

If you had been anywhere near me these last few days, I wouldn't have to explain.

Lady raced Friday night at Turfway. We went off at huge odds. My dear friend Hector was on board as navigator.

Remind me, folks, how many times I have named Hector on Lady now... three rides so far, I believe?

Friday evening, while waiting for our outrageous 9:32 pm post time, I get a call from Hector (our jockey, for those of you who haven't read previous posts). I think to myself, utoh, this can't be good!

Hector tells me he is on his way to Turfway. That he is coming in just to ride Lady, and no other horses. That his latest agent is an ass and he switched agents and decided he would not be getting on all the horses his last agent lined up. Just Lady.

I'm flattered and think, well, maybe this is a good omen. I mean, a jockey that is driving in from across the river for just this one ride, come on, this is good, right?

Lady is feeling great. She can't wait to get out there and run.

She breaks wonderfully from post position 1 and is hauling ass. She is right up there with the other half million dollar horses (serious competition in this race). We're finally going a mile.

In contention the whole race until she comes to the last turn before the stretch for home. I'm watching on screen with my breath held thinking: "Wow, look at her- this is the horse I expected to see all this time!" , when she all of a sudden looks like she is galloping backwards.

She hit the breaks so hard I thought something very bad may have happened.

I run back to the track from the grand stand entrance and wait to see what coming out of the turn will bring.

There is Lady at the rail, no longer in the 5th position but crossing the wire, dead last.

Picking her up I ask Hector what happened.

"She's sound, she's great, I dunno, she just quit!"

My friend Tommy who hauled us up there comes up and announces "She quit, just cold quit."

But why? Hector doesn't stick around long and I'm left holding the horse with the owner looking displeased. I walk her off back towards the receiving barn and tell the owner I'm calling the vet to have her scoped. This sort of quitting doesn't come from a horse getting tired. Something happened. I wonder if she flipped her palate? She's never done it before.
Perhaps she bled badly? She is a bleeder- despite the Lasix, she has bled a tiny amount each race, which indicates she is a genetic bleeder.

The little voice in the back of my head is murmuring a quiet but persistent mantra: "He hit her with the whip".

Scope is clean except for a tiny bit of mucus. Not anything that would make her quit running. Palates are all in perfect working order. Not a drop of blood in sight (that's a first).

Her owner's friend, a pretty good horseman, comes up to me and tells me out loud what the little voice was telling me: He had to have hit her.

Lady isn't tired. Although she drinks a fair amount of water, considering the fact that Lasix dehydrates and we have been in the receiving barn since before 4 pm that afternoon, I'm not surprised. She's jumping around, dragging me every chance she gets, upbeat, happy and unwinded. A tired horse who just quit its race would never act this way.

Did my pinhead friend have a brainfart and use the whip on my girl?

I won't know until I get home and watch the replay.

At 3: 30 a.m., I am finally back home and planted firmly in front of my computer. I'm watching the replay- panoramic view, I can't tell much as the picture is too far away. I have to watch several times and really pay attention to his body language. The place where she wheeled backwards is where he would have asked her to go more, to find her next gear. Looking at his shoulders and weight distribution, he most likely used the whip.

I watch the head on replay and again, from that angle at that particular place, it is impossible to tell. However, when he comes out of the turn with her and enters the stretch, there he is, plain as day, hitting her with the whip. Right handed, low, barely noticeable.

Why, oh why, is it that these boys think they know better than the trainer?

I hate he made this mistake. It may have been an honest mistake. Jockeys will instinctively go to the whip during the race at certain times. I understand that.

What bothers me is this:
You make a mistake. Please come tell me about it. I won't rip your head off. I can forgive one mistake, an honest mistake. I've heard jockeys say I'm sorry, I spaced out, I was on autopilot and hit the horse.
Instead, my pinhead comes up and tells me, I dunno what happened, she just quit. And lacking further explanation, he runs off to the jock's room. Not like Hector at all. More like:
"Oh shit, I better get out of here before she figures out what happened".

Small mistake. Cost us very big.

In the meantime, I get a call from her owner who tells me the wife has announced that the horse has to have shoes on or can't win.

My instinct was to tell him to come pick her up. This filly has an old injury to her hip that develops heat down her right leg once in a while and so far has not bothered her. I'm afraid if I put shoes on her, it's going to aggravate the situation and she will come up too sore to continue.

But hey, who am I? Just the trainer. I must not know what I'm doing.

Tells you the difference between experience and speculation.

When a race doesn't go right and you are trying to figure out what to fix with a horse, you NEVER attempt to fix more than one thing between races. NEVER. You "fix" 4 things and the horse runs well- guess what? You have no clue what one thing was the actual fix.
Not that putting shoes on her would make a damned bit of difference to improve the way she runs, au contraire- if nothing else, it will expose her to more shock and heighten the probability of reinjury.

In an ideal world, all the horses in my barn would be my own.

In reality, they are not. In reality, there is a certain amount of ass kissing trainers have to partake in because our clients, like it or not, are the owners, not the horses.

As disgusted as I am with the demands now placed on me, I have little choice in the matter. If I send Lady back, they take her to another trainer and she now turns around and runs well because we have figured out the majority of her quirks, I look like shit as a trainer.

I can bitch, moan, work myself up and when I look at this filly, I can even feel bad for her, knowing full well, none of it will make a difference.

As my dear friend Doc Beebe told me yesterday on the phone: "Honey- you tell these owners what you just told me: There is a probability she will come up sore if I put shoes on her and I am telling you that right now. But I will put the shoes on her because that is what you want.
When she does come up sore and has to be off for a few months, I want you to know that I warned you this could happen."

It's called a disclaimer. Cover your ass. I'll ignore the fact that seeing shoes on this filly is going to make me cringe every time. Watching those hooves fall apart again is going to anger me.
When she was brought to me, I was told that her feet fell apart badly from having shoes on last year.
This girl can jog and gallop on a paved. gravelly driveway and never take an ouchy step. Barefoot.

And I now get to ruin four perfectly good hooves.

Who can I smack? Any volunteers?


lytha said...

Do as you must - smack the jockey. Smack him for being the cause of her future feet problems, by ignoring you. And smack him for me, cuz it was infuriating to read this post.

How depressing that they think shoes will make her perform better. I keep coming back to this blog, hoping to see a barefoot racehorse success story.


~lytha in Germany

Jackie said...

How incredibly frustrating! I hope for Lady's sake that she does ok with the shoes because I'd never want a horse to hurt. At the same time, it's great that you are keeping her barefoot as it is obviously better for her. I just can't imagine how on earth you would equate quitting running with needing shoes. Obviously quitting like that, and coming out that well after the race, is a mental thing not a physical thing.