It’s been a whirlwind 48 hours since Bay of Freedom performed so abjectly at Wexford on Wednesday. For those of you who either didn’t check the result or were, unsurprisingly, too scared to, he finished a tailed off last. Immediate excuses were ‘the ground may have been too fast’ and ‘he weighed his highest ever and may not have been fully fit’. These were soon dismissed and replaced with ‘he didn’t try and he needs blinkers next time’ based on the fact that, as the Irish would say, ‘there wasn’t a bother on him’ after the race and he looked like he had just arrived at the course opposed to having run 3 miles. However, I continued to have a niggling feeling that it could be ulcers; this was mainly because I am obsessive and I had been researching ulcers the day before and had read that even a short ride in a horse box could cause them
Peter thought I was mad asking for another scope (all of this costs money, you know) but we just needed to know. He went to the vets yesterday morning and Peter called and said “ you’re not going to believe it, but he’s got grade 3 ulcers” Ulcers are only measured up to Grade 4 and he had gone from none to Grade 3 since Sunday morning. It was pretty obvious that the race day experience had caused the ulcers and it’s pretty obvious that if you have a horse who can’t go to the racecourse then you don’t have a racehorse. I was pretty down about all of this and Peter said he would ask Cormac the vet from Troytown to give me call. We missed each other yesterday with me flying back but we spoke this morning; I wanted to wait until after that before writing this update.
Cormac was good and started by saying that poor performance is rarely just from ulcers but is often caused by other factors plus the ulcers; that it is difficult to know what comes first and all issues have to be treated independently and managed accordingly. We knew that Bay of Freedom had some muscle wastage and some fetlock issues and Cormac suggested, if we wanted to run him again, we should treat these issues, go back to his 24/7 life in a field and also try to improve management of any acid build up when he traveled.
This seems to make sense to me. One thing that has been bothering me since Wednesday is: he doesn’t get stressed and develop ulcers when he goes to the vets or the Curragh (15 minutes away) so why does he get stressed when he goes to the races? He doesn’t know the difference when he’s in the horsebox. Is it a question of how long he travels but, then , why has he run so well at Listowel when it’s 2.5 times farther away than Wexford? Perhaps, he’s only starting to get stressed recently because he associates going to the races with pain from his ulcers? But, then again, he has had bad ulcers before, been driven a long way to a course subsequently and run well. There doesn’t seem to be any clear correlation. Perhaps, the pain from his joints allied to the travel combine to create the ulcers and then it really is a vicious circle and, if that’s even potentially the case, then we should treat both and have one more crack at it!
I then spoke to Peter and he was keen to have one more shot at it; either he would respond well or he would run like he has the past two weeks. The former outcome would maintain his career as a racehorse; the latter would mean we would be finding a good home for him.
So what does all of that mean in practice? It means the following:
1) There are not any chases for him during the summer and we think he deserves better than having potentially his last race in a 116 rated hurdle around Limerick. Consequently, we are going to ‘swing for the fences’ and wait for the Kerry National in September; the race he finished a close 3rd in last year. He should be rated high enough over fences to get in the race (he’s rated 136 and 131 was high enough to get in last year)
Today is my birthday and Kim and I are going to the Red Sox tonight – no better day than today to decide to swing for the fences!
2) We first need to clear up the ulcers. Keeping him out at grass should do that and, based on past experience, he should be clear within a matter of weeks.
3) We will treat him for any issues with the fetlocks and muscle wastage and ensure any medications are fully out of his system before the race; horses are not allowed to run on many medications that are used in training (There are different withdrawal periods for different drugs; a withdrawal period being the number of days before any drug is out of the system)
4) On the day before the race we will administer a buffering agent to his stomach and do the same on the day of travel. Horses stomachs contract due to stress when they travel and this pushes the acid up into the upper stomach and can cause ulcer issues if the acid impacts the stomach lining. A buffering agent helps to offset the impact of the acid. One of the best buffering agents is Gastrogard but the withdrawal period for Gastrogard is three days; in other words, it is not an option on the day of or the day before travel. There is absolutely no evidence that Gastrogard is performance enhancing but, nevertheless, this is the rule. There are, however, other buffering agents that are allowed and it would be the intention to administer them prior to travel.
Inevitably, we will go to Listowel more in hope than expectation. In many ways, we are back to where it all started: buying a racehorse is based on dreams rather than the likely reality; going to Listowel in September will be our dream and, who’s to say, maybe this Listowel Dream will come true.