Millionaire horse Thorn Song , who was severely injured in his final start at Del Mar last summer and had “an almost zero chance” at survival after developing laminitis, has made a remarkable recovery thanks to breakthrough stem cell therapy and continues to mend well at Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, Calif.
Alamo Pintado founder and veterinarian Dr. Doug Herthel confirmed on Feb. 10 that Thorn Song, a four-time graded stakes winner, was alive and doing well after a long battle with laminitis. The 7-year-old son of Unbridled's Song—Festal, by Storm Bird, has been in the news recently after it was learned that his owner, Ahmed Zayat, had collected a $2.75 million mortality insurance claim for his death.
It has been confirmed that Zayat did receive the full insurance claim on Oct. 19, 2009 after an independent veterinarian appointed by the insurance carrier, North American Specialty Insurance Company, determined that Thorn’s Song’s condition met criteria of the policy.
However now, after an astonishing turnaround, it is hopeful that the horse will make a full recovery and may even be able to perform stallion duties in the future.
Herthel, who founded Alamo Pintado in 1972 and heads one of the most technologically advanced equine clinics in the world, said Thorn Song came to his team in August, 2009 after suffering a partially ruptured deep digital flexor tendon and severe infections that included multiple abscesses. But after being treated successfully for those ailments, Thorn Song began suffering from laminitis, a disease of the hoof that is extremely painful and often fatal for horses, and is well-known as the disease that caused 2006 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Barbaro to be euthanized.
By October, Herthel said the prognosis for Thorn Song was so bleak that his team and an independent veterinarian, Dr. Van Snow, had decided there was little hope for survival.
“He was deemed to have almost zero chance at survival,” said Herthel. “He underwent intensive treatment and we exhausted every possible conventional treatment there was. There was little chance he would live a quality life, so we decided to put him down. That’s when I called Mr. Zayat’s office.
“Mr. Zayat was devastated. He had called almost daily for two months for updates and when we told him (about putting Thorn Song down) he was actually crying on the phone. I’ve had thousands of clients and you could tell he genuinely cared about this horse.”
Though the insurance claim was paid off, as a “last ditch effort” rather than euthanize Thorn Song, Herthel decided to try stem cell therapy, a groundbreaking procedure in which bone marrow is used to help regenerate tissue. Alamo Pintado was the first private equine practice in the United States to open an onsite stem cell laboratory and has used the procedure to successfully treat hundreds of horses with joint, tendon, and ligament injuries. However, Herthel said they have performed stem cell therapy on only a handful of horses with lamintis.
“I thought there would still be a less than 10% chance for him even if we tried stem cell,” said Herthel. “But within 48 hours we saw a turnaround. There was a dramatic decrease in pain and swelling, and within two weeks we started seeing amazing hoof growth. We were blown away.
“It went beyond our expectations. It may be the most exciting thing I have ever seen. Technology is moving forward.”
Herthel said that Thorn Song, who is now owned by North American Specialty, is “not out of the woods yet,” but at this point is comfortable and his hoof continues to grow. He said Thorn Song’s quality of life is currently excellent and expects to have the horse at Alamo Pintado for a couple more months. He estimated that there is a 70% chance of Thorn Song becoming a stallion.
Thorn Song produced an 8-4-4 record from 29 lifetime starts with earnings of $1,132,700. His biggest wins came in the 2008 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland and the 2009 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park (both gr. IT). Those wins came while in the care of trainer Dale Romans. The gray/roan horse made his final start on July 25, 2009 in the Eddie Read (gr. IT) in his first start for trainer Mike Mitchell, where he bolted in the first turn and did not finish.
Zayat purchased Thorn Song for $200,000 at the 2005 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds sale.