A horse looks out from a damaged barn on the Hipodromo Camarero backstretch

A horse looks out from a damaged barn on the Hipodromo Camarero backstretch

Courtesy of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare

Efforts Afoot to Assist Thoroughbreds at Camarero

Industry groups plan to ship supplies to Puerto Rico.

Officials at Hipodromo Camarero said they are working to ensure that Thoroughbreds at the track in Puerto Rico are cared for while the facility works toward reopening following widespread damage from Hurricane Maria.

According to multiple news outlets, the storm that hit Puerto Rico Sept. 20 left much of the island without power and communications. On Sept. 23, Camarero posted an update to its Facebook page.

"We wish to inform you that we've suffered severe damage to our facilities, but we are preparing a plan to ensure that we can return to our operations as soon as possible," representatives from the track said. "At the very least, the main thing for the Camarero family is the safety of all our employees and horses. We are ensuring that horses are safe, fed, and cared for. Our management staff is providing the areas and access routes so that employees and industry officials are safe in our facilities.

"We are hopeful that none of our employees have suffered beyond material loss and that they are safe in the family."

On Sept. 25, Shelley Gagnon-Blodgett of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare said industry groups are rallying to ensure the horses at the track receive care. The CTA believes there are 864 active Thoroughbreds at the track as well as nearly another 100 horses that serve as lead ponies and horses active at the jockey school there.

Blodgett, who is in Florida but has been able to get updates from CTA president and breeder Eduardo Maldonado and other association members in Puerto Rico, said water is running low and it's difficult to get hay to the horses.

"The state of things is basically that they have gotten some water, but it's not enough," Blodgett said. "There are small amounts of water coming in and they were rationing it, and each horse was getting like a quarter of a bucket. They were expecting some larger trucks of water (Sept. 24) and they had no hay. I know in the days leading up to the storm getting hay was a problem. ...

"And the reason is, after (Hurricane) Irma and all, the south of Puerto Rico is where most of the hay comes from and they were having a lot of rain and a lot of standing water, so they weren't even able to get out and bale hay like they normally do. And the other thing, too, is more resources after Irma were going down island to help out after that."

She said Dr. Scarlette Gotwals, operations manager of Brook Ledge Horse Transportation's Horse America, is working to secure a cargo plane to ship in supplies collected by various people in the Thoroughbred industry, including Kim Heath of Bonnie Heath Farm near Ocala, Fla. and Suzanne Watkins in Lexington. 

"They are exploring if they can also bring back some horses," Blodgett said. "This requires getting (United States Department of Agriculture) clearance to do a required eight-day quarantine."

Blodgett said Ocala Breeders' Sales Company is also working to put together a container of feed to ship to Puerto Rico. She said New Bolton Center, at the University of Pennsylvania, is working on sending veterinarians and vet tech staff as well.

Blodgett has been in contact with the Humane Society of the United States, which is on the ground and working under Federal Emergency Management Agency direction to assess equine status and needs beginning Sept. 25 in Puerto Rico. 

On Monday evening, Blodgett said CTA vice president Kelley Stobie was at the track and reported four equine deaths following the storm. Stobie, using a satellite phone to reach Blodgett, reported that more medications are needed for the horses.

Marty Irby, senior adviser of equine protection and rural affairs for the Humane Society of the United States, said they are working with the American Association of Equine Practitioners, The Jockey Club, and the United States Equestrian Federation to formulate a plan to care for horses in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

"It seems like there's little to no infrastructure there. Our rescue teams have of course been covered up in Texas and Florida, so there's very limited resources as far as physical bodies," Irby said. "We do have a great relationship with Puerto Rico because we had a program there already. So the governor (Ricardo Rosselló) is signing or will sign for a massive on-the-ground order for animals and has named HSUS and the Humane Society International to help lead the cause there. It's not specific to horses, it's all animals there.

"We're going to try to reconvene (Sept. 26) to see what kind of plan we can come up with. I think there are a number of facilities and entities in the U.S that have accumulated tons—literally tons—of feed and hay and supplies that have not been utilized for Irma and Harvey and maybe weren't needed but the challenge is getting them to the Caribbean of course. I think that's going to be our first line it appears and we're just kind of working through it."

The track hopes to begin maintenance and administrative work Sept. 25.

Erin Shea contributed to this story.