Friday, August 28, 2009

Bad News Friday: Paralysis, setbacks and death

Not to be the anti-Paulick Report, where Fridays are usually for good news, I was struck this morning by the general "downer" that faced me in my daily Blood-Horse e-mail this morning.

-- "Jockey to Have Surgery, Paralysis Feared"
-- "Back Leg Injuries Tied to Synthetic Tracks"
-- "Grade 1-winning Stallion Sunriver Dead"
-- "OBS Sale Ends with 36.6% Decline in Gross"


First things first, best of luck today and my prayers go out to apprentice jockey Michael Straight, who underwent surgery Thursday afternoon in an effort to repair four fractured vertebrae suffered in a Wednesday spill at Chicago's Arlington Park. Straight's twin brother, Matthew, issued a statement on behalf of the family Thursday afternoon saying that an update of his injured brother's condition would be issued this morning.

A family friend has said the prognosis that Michael Straight will ever walk again is "very grim."

The Straight brothers, who are 24, both are graduates of Chris McCarron's North American Racing Academy in Lexington, Ky. Michael won on his first lifetime mount March 6 at Tampa Bay Downs and has won on 39 of 372 mounts this season, a sign of much promise. He'd been riding primarily at Arlington this summer, while his brother was riding at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky.

The potentially paralyzing spill is the second at Arlington this season. Highly regarded veteran Rene Douglas is still recovering from a paralyzing fall suffered May 23.

My prayers will continue to go out to both injured riders and their families.

Meanwhile, death struck the younger stallion ranks again as Sunriver, Grade 1-winning full brother to champion mare Ashado, suffered an apparently heart attack or aneurysm at the youthful age of 6. Sunriver retired with $816,414 in earnings from six lifetime races, including victories in the Hollywood Turf Cup S.-G1 and Bowling Green H.-G2 on lawn and the Peter Pan S.-G2 on Belmont's main track.

Empire Stud of New York, where Sunriver stood, reports that there should be around 150 foals combined from the stallion's two crops, the weanlings of 2009 and the anticipated foals of next spring.

Sunriver, by Saint Ballado, was a fine racehorse and splendidly bred. His dam, Goulash, was herself a stakes winner and graded-placed, and in addition to the aforementioned Ashado (champion 3-year-old filly of 2004 and champion older mare the following year) had produced a third stakes-winning full sibling in Saint Stephen (Native Diver H.-G3, etc.) and yet another full sibling, Ballado's Halo, was blacktype-placed. The quartet's half-brother, Storm Creek Rising, was also stakes-placed.

Sunriver's death is certainly an untimely loss both of good blood and some stamina influence from New York's stallion ranks.

As for other setbacks, it's hard to put any positive spin on either the news that synthetic tracks might not be a trouble-free improvement over traditional dirt surfaces, or on the plummet of prices at the OBS yearling sale.

I'm unfortunately not surprised that while synthetic tracks might be reducing some traumas among the racing stock, they could be causing others -- specifically, as it turns out, hind leg injuries.

I think that in some circles, hopes have been too high that synthetic tracks were "saving horses." From some problems, yes. But as with many changes in life, there's usually a tradeoff.

Preliminary study results from the California Horse Racing Board and the University of California-Davis show that fatal injuries due to hind leg injuries are significantly higher on synthetic surfaces than on the remaining dirt surfaces in the state. In fact, only one horse out of 65 traditional dirt-surface fatalities was the victim of a hind leg injury. Conversely, of 111 horses to die racing or training on synthetic surfaces -- which were mandated by the state at major tracks, and at major expense -- 19 of the deaths were a result of hind leg injuries.

Those numbers suggest that trainers who were complaining of an increased incidence of hind leg injuries weren't imagining things. And that there's still work to do in figuring out which racing surfaces are the safest and best for our equine athletes, knowing that in a sport where speed and traffic are the order of the day, we can never keep them perfectly safe.

Finally, Ocala was apparently a great place to steal a yearling racehorse prospect this week, and there still weren't enough takers. The four-day sale not only saw a nearly 37 percent decline in gross receipts, but the average price paid for a yearling there fell from $16,160 last year to $11,463 this year.

The buy-back/no-bid rate actually was a bit better, but not significantly so, at 33.4 percent vs. 35.6 percent. I would attribute that tiny improvement to sellers attempting to set attainable reserves amid a desperately sour economy. And still, one in three sellers took the horse back home, unsold.

This probably would be a good year to be a pinhooker looking ahead to 2010, or particularly with this year's weanlings toward the 2011 2-year-old sales, when hopefully the economy will be considerably improved. But without reading the full results from this OBS sale to look for trends among the buyers, it doesn't appear there's anybody stocking-up on young prospects in hopes of cashing in when times aren't so tough.

1 comment:

  1. I had touched on this elsewhere.
    Some serious riding incidents happening at Arlington Park with Rene' Douglas going down in the Arlington Matron and now this incident with Mr. Straight.

    Safety is compromised when horses are ridden closely together to gain wind cover, before unleashing a run during the second half of the race. A handful of horse can be too much for diminutive men and women riding on synthetics.

    Right now extra care should be exercised while riding on these surfaces simply because horses are not allowed to separate from each other due to their innate talent. The jockeys tactics have become paramount and horses ability has been decreased in importance.

    Last year we also had the double disqualification
    of Terrain when Jose Adan was put up in the Arlington-Washington Futurity. Strange doings in an extended synth meets. If something like this happened at Keeneland, we'd never hear the end of it.


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