Tale Of Two Vet Scratches: 'We Must Respect Modern Science' Vs. 'Worst Call I've Ever Seen' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Tale Of Two Vet Scratches: ‘We Must Respect Modern Science’ Vs. ‘Worst Call I’ve Ever Seen’

In the past 48 hours, a pair of champion trainers were faced with regulatory veterinarian decisions which forced scratches of the likely top wagering choices in graded stakes races.

One occurred in Lexington, Ky., at Keeneland, where the 2022 World Championships of the sport will be held in just a week's time. The other was on the opposite side of the globe in Australia, and came from the country's most famous Thoroughbred race.

Let's first look at the Australian case.

The Melbourne Cup, “The Race That Stops A Nation,” saw Hall of Fame trainer Chris Waller's entrant and presumable third-choice Durston scratched on veterinary advice. Intense veterinary protocols, including compulsory CT scans of all four limbs, became part of the pre-race examination for the Melbourne Cup after seven horses died across eight runnings from 2013 to 2020.

Racing Victoria officials released the following statement:

Racing Victoria (RV) Veterinary Services have advised RV Stewards that, in their opinion, Durston is unsuitable to compete in the 2022 Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

In accordance with the conditions of the race, Durston was presented at the University of Melbourne Equine Centre in Werribee on Friday, Oct. 21, for compulsory CT scans of its distal limbs.

Reports received from the members of the international imaging panel who reviewed Durston's CT scan results indicate that the horse is at heightened risk of injury.

Acting on the specialist advice received from the international imaging panel, trainer Chris Waller has been informed by RV Veterinary Services that Durston is unsuitable to compete in the 2022 Lexus Melbourne Cup.

Waller, best known for training the brilliant race mare Winx, a four-time winner of Australian Horse of the Year honors, issued a public response via his social media pages.

Unfortunately, Durston is unable to take his place in the 2022 Lexus Melbourne Cup. It is extremely disappointing however according to Racing Victoria Durston's scans show what's called a 'grey area' and there is a small lesion in his left hind leg. The specialists cannot determine whether it is old or new, or whether it is even something to be concerned about, but we must respect this.

It is all about safety, for the horse, and for the rider and the longevity of the horses. It is very disappointing for all connections of the horse, as well as my stable, because so much time and effort goes into these horses. It's just heartbreaking.

Durston is sound, he galloped well on Tuesday morning and my vet trotted him up following this however we must respect modern science and learn from this.

The horse will undergo an MRI scan to investigate further.

Now, consider Friday's case from Keeneland. American racing has been under fire in recent years, especially since a run of equine fatalities in Southern California in 2019. Those incidents helped bring the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act past the finish line, launching the country's first national oversight body for horse racing.

Support our journalism

If you appreciate our work, you can support us by subscribing to our Patreon stream. Learn more.

Thus far, HISA has implemented its Racetrack Safety Program, which went into effect July 1, 2022. One of the program's targets was creating a national requirement for pre-race veterinary examinations — something that Kentucky regulators have been doing for years

With that backdrop, four-time champion U.S. trainer Chad Brown brought 5-2 morning line favorite Dolce Zel to Lexington for the Grade 3 Valley View Stakes. Dr. Bruce Howard, equine medical director for Kentucky, told the Daily Racing Form that chief state veterinarian Dr. Nicholas Smith and colleague Dr. Brent Cassady made the decision to scratch the filly from the race after a pre-race exam on Friday morning.

“Both were concerned enough with what they saw that they decided to make the scratch,” Howard told DRF. “Safety of the horse is always our primary concern. They are two of our very experienced veterinarians.”

Brown, meanwhile, vehemently disagreed with the veterinarians' decision.

“She's had a puffy tendon sheath the whole time I've had her,” Brown told DRF. “It's nothing, just something cosmetic. She's completely sound. I told the vet I'd jog her 50 times for him if he wanted. It's the worst call I've ever seen in terms of pre-race evaluations.

“It's too bad that it's come to this with these horses. It seems like there's no room for reasonable discretion when it comes to these pre-race exams.”

Two trainers at the top of their game; two totally different takes.

With the recent emphasis on increased veterinary standards in both countries, it would seem erring on the side of equine safety would be not only in the horse's best interest, but that of the entire industry, as well.

Clearly, not everyone agrees.

That's not to say that trainers never disagree with veterinarians' opinions — after all, veterinarians often disagree with each other. In this instance, Brown may even be correct about the horse's tendon sheath. But state veterinarians don't have a financial incentive to scratch horses, and in this case, two of them agreed that the risk to the horse wasn't appropriate.

Brown's decision to publicly state otherwise could feed into a narrative already far too prevalent in this country: that trainers are willing to risk their horses for a financial reward.

It isn't doing his horse any good, and it surely isn't serving the sport in which he makes his living.

Paulick Report Icon

Receive daily headlines, breaking news alerts, promotions, and much more!

Become An Insider

Support our journalism and access bonus content on our Patreon stream

Learn More