Chelokee, who suffered a dislocated right front ankle during the running of the May 2 Alysheba Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs, has “at least a 50-50 chance" of survival, according to prominent equine surgeon Larry Bramlage. The dark bay or brown colt suffered torn ligaments, but no bones were broken.
“He dislocated the sesamoids about five centimeters, a little more than two inches, up the side of the leg, and that’s what the ambulance crew thought initially was a condylar fracture,” said Bramalage the morning after the race. “It has the same effect (as a condylar fracture). His ankle is unstable, and it will require surgery. It’s a career-ending injury, but, hopefully, with a little luck, he’ll be able to be a stallion.”
A 4-year-old son of Cherokee Run, Chelokee is owned by Centennial Farms and is trained by Michael Matz, who also conditioned Barbaro, the colt that broke down in the 2006 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) after capturing the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I). Chelokee was ridden in the Alysheba by Ramon Dominguez.
Chelokee captured the Northern Dancer Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill and the Barbaro Stakes at Pimlico last year, and he also finished third in the Florida Derby (gr. I). The Alysheba was his second race this year, following a victory in an allowance/optional claiming race at Gulfstream March 29.
Following his injury, Chelokee was taken to Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington. Bramlage, who is based at Rood and Riddle, reported that colt’s condition improved considerably overnight. Swelling in his damaged ankle decreased and the blood supply to the area improved.
“It was a really bad dislocation,” Bramlage said. “It (the ankle) is back in alignment now, but there is nothing holding it there except for a cast. It (the injury) started with a tear in the ligament not a fracture of the bone. He had quite a lot of swelling and a lot of soft tissue damage. In some instances, the dislocations with lots of soft tissue damage are harder to repair than a fracture that you can put a couple of screws in it.”
Even though Chelokee’s injury is life threatening, the colt is bright and alert, and there are several reasons to be optimistic about his prognosis.
“Everything is going great so far; his attitude is terrific,” Bramlage said. “We had to actually put a traffic cone in his stall so he had something to play with. He kept trying to pull his IV (intravenous) line out of the ceiling because he was trying to figure out something to do.”
Chelokee also got some rest and has had a good appetite.
“He laid down a couple of times,” Bramlage said. “When I put his feed tub in last night -- he hadn’t been fed after the race -- he dove into it and he ate about five or six mouthfuls. Then he backed up and looked at it because it wasn’t the feed he was used to. Those kinds of things are all good signs.”
The surgery Chelokee will undergo is known as a fetlock arthrodesis. The procedure is commonly described as “fusing an ankle.” It involves the artificial induction of joint ossification between two bones.
“We’ll have to stabilize both his pastern joint and his fetlock joint, and eliminate the fetlock joint, so it’s a major piece of surgery,” Bramlage said. “His dislocation disrupted not only the fetlock, but the pastern joint as well, so he’s got two (areas) that we have to stabilize. But it’s something we’ve done before. He’ll have a plate, screws, wire, and polyethylene. It will be a mishmash of stuff put in at various locations.”
If everything goes well, Chelokee could begin his career as a stallion next year, according to Bramlage. Grade II winner Teuflesberg, who fractured two sesamoids in his left front ankle last October underwent a fetlock arthrodesis and was able to enter stud earlier this year at Hurricane Hall in Central Kentucky.
“Teuflesberg had blood supply damage as well,” Bramlage said. “We fused his (Teuflesberg’s) ankle and he was on time for the breeding shed opening on February 15.”
Chelokee, who went off as the second choice in the Alysheba at odds of 2-1, was running fourth in the race before he took a bad step and fell at the top of the stretch. Jockey Ramon Dominguez was examined at the track first-aid station and cleared to return to the jockeys' room.