Timetable of events:
Meet Peter in the paddock and he tells me Kevin was thrown off a horse earlier in the day; well that gave me my opening line when Kevin walked into the parade ring. He took it in good spirit ….I think!
Race is underway and Bay of Freedom jumps slowly and awkwardly at the first and it doesn’t get much better from there. His jumping was poor all the way around; from time to time he closed up and it looked like he was going ok but then another poor jump would come and it was all too much of an effort. Eventually there was no point in carrying on and Kevin pulled him up and just trotted back to the unsaddling enclosure for the inquest.
The inquest begins…… Kevin, who thinks his jumping is fine normally, said ‘his jumping was horrendous’ and he just wasn’t enjoying it. Gavin took him away to be washed down and Peter and I decided we should ask the racecourse vet to take a look at him but we knew that was a long shot as this has happened before and there has never been anything to be seen.
The vet scopes the horse and he’s clear. He checks his heart but that is ‘post race normal’ and trots the horse; he’s a bit stiff behind but that’s pretty normal (and, sure enough, he was fine the next morning). He was hardly blowing after the race and did not seem like a horse who had run to the point of exhaustion.
Peter asked if I wanted a drink; a question I assumed to be rhetorical given I was already 10 steps in front of him on the way to the bar. When we sat down I said that we should get him tested for ulcers. He has always suffered from them but we thought they were under control and he has been on Gastrogard when he’s been in training for the last two years. However, he’s ben in the yard since late October and in his box at night; during the summer and into the fall he had been out all night in the paddock – that could make a big difference.
A quick amateur’s refresher to ulcers: horses produce stomach acid to help digest food, particularly grass. Different to humans, who only produce acid when they eat, horses produce acid all day long; the reason being that they are grazing animals and should be eating all day long. When racehorses are in training, they only eat twice per day which can mean that acid can just sit there in the stomach and over time affect the stomach lining leading to ulcers. Not all racehorses get ulcers (but up to 90% do) and ulcers only affect performance in about 10-15% of horses but, when impacted, it is like running with heartburn and the horse just cannot run its race; Bay of Freedom falls into the latter category.
I walked Peter through the trends with Bay of Freedom throughout his career: he ran well in his first two races in the fall of 2014 (after being out at grass), he spent the winter in a field and ran well at Cheltenham. He was kept in training and ran worse in each successive race until we gave him 8 months off, put him in a field and then he came out and won at Wexford. His runs then got progressively worse until we stuck him in a field before he ran and won his beginner’s chase at Listowel, followed by another great win at Wexford. Back in training, but now in his box day and night as it was approaching winter, he ran disappointingly at Doncaster and terrible at Naas (where he jumped like he did at Fairyhouse). We kept him in a field from January until he ran at Tipperary (ran ok) , then Listowel (ran great) and Wexford (ran well). Once again, with winter approaching, he came back into the stables day and night and then ran disappointingly at Leopardstown and now here we are at Fairyhouse.
Frustratingly, he had been on Gastrogard the entire time but it is starting to look like the secret to him is being in kept in a field day and night and benefiting from the best grass (basically between April and October)
By this time I had finished my soliloquy, Peter needed another drink himself! He arranged to have him tested on Thursday for ulcers at 9am and would call me before my flight at 2pm.
I spent the evening making the mandatory calls to friends and family and trying to explain what happened.
It was decided to have the test on Friday morning. The good news was that Bay had eaten up and was walking with no stiffness. (Horses with ulcers tend to lose their appetite; Bay of Freedom does not. It just proves what a greedy **** he really is!) The handicapper had dropped his rating by a pound to 136 but that is still high enough to be able to plan which races to run him in when he comes back. Peter said to call him at 11am on Friday (6am my time) and we should know a lot more.
Playing it cool, I called Peter a few minutes late. It was confirmed: the ulcers were back and with a vengeance. There were a number of smaller but two big ones which registered a 3 plus on the 1-4 ulcer grading scale; there was also some sign of bleeding. Bay of Freedom must have been in some pain!!
The vet will be sending along a report and maybe a video showing the ulcers. I will update this blog when I get them so feel free to check back in.
It is obvious that, for him, the Gastrogard has no effect and he needs to be out at grass as much as possible. We are going to do exactly that and we won’t plan on running him until, probably, the Kerry National in September where he ran so well last year. We will test him again in May just to get a sense of how much the ulcers have improved but until then he will be in a field with a companion; something the vet recommended: “give him some company and keep him relaxed”.
I mentioned to Peter that we might consider getting a goat or a sheep for him; it been done before as shown in this link which I sent to Peter later. I don’t know what training or ‘at grass’ fees are for goats or sheep but I am happy to make the investment. Of course, it hasn’t been unknown for the companion to be a pig or a pony so we will see.
So there we are: we have an answer as to why he ran so poorly but it is the answer we didn’t really want. We are confident we can treat the ulcers with the ‘at grass’ routine but we have to ensure that he is clear of them when he next runs. Hopefully, it isn’t in his head at this point – if he thinks it’s going to hurt then he isn’t going to perform. We need to make sure he does things and feels no pain and then build up his confidence. If we can do that, then we should see a very different horse when he next appears.
This is an informational blog but, admittedly, a bit dry. So, in order to compensate, I will be writing a ‘Blind Date’ edition in which Bay of Freedom will choose his companion from three choices …….knowing Bay’s sense of humour, that should be a fun blog!