Fair Grounds Breakdowns Look 'Unusual'

Catastrophic breakdowns at Fair Grounds don't appear to be related to the surface.

Though five horses have been euthanized as a result of catastrophic breakdowns at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots since Jan. 17, Dr. Tom David, equine medical director for the Louisiana State Racing Commission, said the incidents appear to have no direct connection with the condition of the racing surface.

“We can’t find any correlation with the track at all; the track appeared to be as good as it has ever been when the horses broke down,” David said Jan. 22. “The breakdowns were not from the usual things. Only one of them was anywhere close to a normal catastrophic breakdown.”

David said two of the five horses were euthanized due to injured shoulders while galloping. Three of the injured horses were from Tom Amoss’ barn; one suffered a fractured tibia (large bone in a back leg). “Then it put its weight on the diagonal front leg and fractured a radius, which is real unusual,” David said.

Amoss’ other horse sustained a distal condylar fracture in one of its rear limbs. “You see (this type of injury) occasionally, but mostly in the front leg,” David said. “Hopefully, this is just a group that by happenstance (had fatal injuries) that occurred around the same time.”

David said Fair Grounds’ new track superintendent, Brian Jabelmann, who was hired Dec. 31, seemed to be doing a “terrific” job. “We just can’t find anything (wrong with the track),” he said. “The riders are happy, the trainers seem to be happy, and if you talk to the practicing veterinarians, nobody is seeing any rash of injuries for the trainers they work for."

Jockey Ramsey Zimmerman, who broke his collarbone after a spill involving one of Amoss’ horses, Squallacious, Jan. 17, is the only reported rider to have been seriously injured. Zimmerman, who underwent surgery Jan. 21, is expected to be sidelined for four to six weeks.

David said a common misconception about on-track injuries is that they occur as a result of a horse taking a bad step. If one follows the research done by veterinarian Sue Stover at the University of California-Davis in California, however, most catastrophic breakdowns are caused by undiagnosed injuries a horse already sustained. “They’re usually just injuries that you cannot diagnose, like the shoulder and tibia,” David said.

Bernard Flint and Mark Thompson trained the other horses that had to be euthanized.

“The breakdowns were not from the usual things,” David said. “Only one of them was anywhere close to a normal catastrophic breakdown. After looking at horses for 40 years, these catastrophic injuries are just hard to predict. These are basically what we’d think of as being sound horses, not horses with noted problems. I looked at the vet records on three of them, and there’s just absolutely nothing there that would lead you to believe that here’s a horse that had any problems.”

As of Jan. 22, David said no additional information was available on the injuries, or if they could be related to the consistency of the track.

“Right now, we’re monitoring (the track) and watching it, trying to observe and keep on top of it,” he said.