Stating the bleedin obvious – Turftalk: 6 November 2016
READERS who know of the TV series Fawlty Towers may recall Basil Fawlty risking blowing his frequently threatened personal gasket when reacting to his wife‟s opinion and growling, “Can we get you on Mastermind, Sybil? Next contestant Sybil Fawlty from Torquay! Specialist subject: Statin The Bleeding Obvious”.
I wish someone in South Africa would produce a paper telling us the bleeding obvious about bleeding in our racehorses.
That someone will not be me. I am not a clinician. But – having difficulty over many years getting my head around SA authorities issuing bans for bleeding – I am keen to learn.
I can recall only one bleeder in our teams in the UK in 30-odd years, in the sense of a proper haemorrhage. We bred him (by Night Shift out of a Shirley Heights mare) then ran him until he was seven years old.
His general demeanour was based apparently on the fear that the sky might fall on his head, but he was a little lion on course winning four and placing in loads.
When he ran for our Racing Group, members flocked to see him win, lose or draw such was his personality. Cynics might say that harder training than our patient approach to this fellow might have produced more bleeding.
Starting favourite for a decent handicap at Newmarket, he bled badly when improving into the Dip having done no such thing ever before. His rider Seb Sanders, a friend to horses as well as a UK Champion Jockey, dropped his hands immediately he felt the bleed, nursing him back shakily along the July Course. I stayed up with him until the early hours – the horse not Seb – sitting on a hay bale in his box discussing his retirement with him.
To complete this little tale, we gave TONIGHT‟S PRIZE four months off to clear the dried blood then evented him to CIC 2-Star until he was 15 years old. At the age of 23, he still competes in veteran competitions ridden by someone younger than himself.
Newmarket trainers reckon that for every 50 horses in training they would have two, maybe three that would bleed to the extent that it is a problem. That is not to say that others do not have blood in the trachea after racing, but we are excluding a scope revealing a few spots of blood after coughing or being struck by a virus.
Of course some viruses directly cause bleeding. Newmarket was heavily afflicted by a bug in the summer altering the racing patterns across the country. It made horses bleed at home. Permanently? Don‟t know until next year when they come back into training after winter breaks. Then we‟ll find out.
What about genetics? Do some horses have a predisposition to haemorrhage? To put it another way, when asked to undertake lung-busting exercise, will those particular lungs bust? Some do. This is no more or less surprising that finding other inherent defects.
In the opinion of one Newmarket trainer, most light bleeding is just as likely to go away through rest and self-cure as through medication. Homeopathic supplements may well help and there are trainers in countries where bleeding is more prevalent who manage their strings professionally with all that in mind.
In South Africa, if epistaxis (bleeding from one or both nostrils) is “seen”, there are mandatory bans from racing. When queried, the authorities say amongst other things “They do it in Australia” or ditto “in Hong Kong”. I, for one, do not know what is right. I‟m asking. But I do know that on bringing UK new owners into racing in South Africa, the reaction to being told that a horse has been banned for bleeding (and thus devalued) is “You‟re kidding”! We have a case in point now. He wants to know the clinical diagnosis leading to a ban.
There are no bans for bleeding in Europe and North America. There, it is up to the owners who are the responsible parties to manage their horse in consultation with managers, trainers and vets – 60/90 days may or may not be the right time to be “off”. Factors of care, morality, practicality, prognosis, budget, value and, if retiring, the future of the horse, as well as regulation play a part.
It could be argued – those cynics again – that there are no bans in the UK because there is such a liquid trade in second hand race horses for home and abroad that the “one size fits all” approach would foul up the process too much.
In the Far East, we might observe that the whole exercise is so gambling driven that allowing a horse known to be flawed onto the racecourse is somehow corrupting the process. What would the difference be between an announcement (as in Europe in some cases) and a ban? Why particularly bleeding? What about loss of action when racing, for example?
In some places, two bleedin‟ strikes and you‟re out. Australia will have endless alternative pursuits for retired racehorses (as does South Africa), but perhaps less so in city states. That second ban and resultant devaluation would surely have to be based on rock solid veterinary grounds.
The unique legality of the drug Lasix in the USA heightens the global debate. A couple of years ago, the Hong Kong horse RICH TAPESTRY ran in USA. He was not permitted to run on medication overseas. When he won a Grade 1 in California, the anti-drugs brigade celebrated. Then he allegedly bled badly in the Breeders‟ Cup Sprint. Pick the bones out of that. – tt