When an apparently sound thoroughbred breaks down and is destroyed, as was the case with Prairie Bayou last Saturday at the Belmont Stakes, the casual fan is left at a loss.
Why can't a broken leg simply be set?
Why couldn't it be amputated and replaced by an artificial limb?
Why must the horse be destroyed?
Equine veterinarians do routinely repair fractures, saving the horse for the breeding barn and perhaps a return to the track, but Prairie Bayou didn't just suffer a fracture or clean break.
Prairie Bayou, like Union City three weeks earlier in the Preakness Stakes, shattered the front cannon bone _ the long, dense bone between the knee and hoof.
"It takes a tremendous force to break and has a tremendous amount of potential energy stored in it, so when it does break, it's kind of like a hand grenade going off," said Dr. Donnie Slone of the Peterson and Smith Equine Hospital in Ocala, referring to the resulting bone fragments.
A horse's nature further reduces the chances that an expensive surgical procedure will succeed. Other animals would stop running after suffering such an injury, but horses continue to run.
The broken bones protruding through the skin are jammed into the dirt, which contaminates the wound and leads to infection. The blood supply to the area also is disrupted, which can cause the tissue to die.
Even if surgery repairs the damage, the horse must be immobilized in a sling for up to six months, and a horse usually will not tolerate that. With catastrophic injuries like those of Prairie Bayou and Union City, surgery isn't even an option.
"It's virtually impossible to reassemble those pieces to withstand the weight of the horse," said Dr. Patrick Colahan, chief of large-animal surgery at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.
"The only way to save the horse (in these cases) would be to amputate," Slone said. "But that's rarely done. It's not a big surgical feat. The problem is it's not a practical option."
Again, the horse itself is the problem. A dog can get around on three legs; a half-ton horse can't. Prosthetics have been tried, but they produce sores.
"My recommendation as a veterinarian is that amputations aren't a humane thing to do to horses," Colahan said. "The horse is going to suffer through it for the rest of his life."
Carrying the banner: Derby Lane officials nominated Greys Statesman (Greymeadow Kennel) and Dainty Deb (Abernathy Kennel) to the Greyhound Race of Champions at Dairyland Greyhound Park, in Kenosha, Wis.
Greys Statesman won the $100,000 Distance Classic in a scintillating time of 37.14 seconds, three-hundredths off the 1981 track record. Although the dog was injured in the final of the Kansas Bred Derby at Woodlands on May 15, he finished third in his first start back, last Saturday at Derby Lane.
"He's doing fine," said Norm Secia, trainer of Greys Statesman. "If he draws one of the inside boxes, I don't see why he wouldn't make it to the finals."
Dainty Deb hasn't won a stakes this year. She hasn't won many races this year, period _ just five in 33 starts. But she has been worse than fourth only once.
"We were undecided about sending her," Jim Abernathy said. "We had LPD Makers Mark going up, but he got injured (a cut requiring about a dozen stitches during the Irish-American Classic last Saturday at Biscayne Greyhound Track), and when the track said they would sponsor her, we thought we'd take a chance."
Qualifying for the most prestigious greyhound race begins Tuesday and continues Friday. The final is June 26.
Parting words: After the 12th game last Saturday night, his last after 23 seasons at Tampa's jai alai fronton, Laca II praised the "greatest fans" for motivating him.
"I want to honor the fans of Tampa Jai-Alai with my thanks and give you a final salute. Adios, and God bless you," said Laca II, who retired as the all-time wins leader at the fronton with 2,672.
Fronton promotions: Tampa Jai-Alai will sell hot dogs, sodas and beer for 25 cents tonight. Friday night, the fronton will have a money scramble, in which two patrons will have 30 seconds to scoop up as much as $3,000 with a cesta.
Downs alumni: West by West, which finished sixth in the 1992 Tampa Bay Derby, beat some of the nation's premier older horses in winning the $400,000 Grade I Nassau County Handicap last Saturday at Belmont. Magal, a multiple stakes winner and crowd favorite at Tampa Bay Downs the past few years, won the $50,000 Zippy Do Handicap, for fillies and mares, Saturday at Calder.