As we approach the start of a new calendar year, it's a good time to reflect on the biggest issues and most important news in the sport of Thoroughbred racing from 2016. Per tradition, the Paulick Report staff has compiled a list of the stories that you, the readers, found most compelling to read.
The list demonstrates that 2016 was a year of great loss, both human and equine. Although stories focusing on medication and regulation made the list, so did a few pieces on equine welfare and the horse/human connection, reminding us that for many people, the horse is the center of this sport.
Here are a few of the most-read stories from last year:
- Jockey Garrett Gomez Dead At 44: Talented but troubled, the untimely death of retired rider Garrett Gomez was a blow to many in the racing community. Gomez was a two-time Eclipse Award winner as an outstanding jockey in 2008 and 2009 and won 13 Breeders' Cup races. He was also plagued with alcohol and substance abuse issues throughout his career, relapsing most recently around 2013. The outpouring of memories and condolences from industry insiders and fans alike were a testament to his impact on the sport he loved. Besides Gomez, readers also responded to obituaries of former assistant trainer Jeff Lukas, Emerald Downs trainer Monique Snowden, and Samantha Broberg, wife to trainer Karl Broberg.
- New 'Open-Toed' Shoeing Technique Could Correct Hoof Problems, Shift Paradigms: Despite a publication date of 2015, this was one of our most-read stories in 2016, too. Sarah Coleman's description of a new type of toeless horseshoe, developed by veterinarian Dr. Johanna Reimer, attracted a lot of attention and debate among horse owners of all breeds and disciplines. The toeless shoe is aimed at reducing toe bruising and heel migration, and may help shoes stay on. Reimer has continued honing the technique throughout 2016. Watch for an update on the open-toed shoe technique, coming soon to our Hoof Care section.
- 'Unfathomable': Horses In Dire Condition As Animal Neglect Investigation Drags On: The case of 43 horses abandoned on a Mercer County farm rented by Beacon Hill Farm captured our readers' attention from the start of the investigation last summer until now. Maria Borell, listed manager of Beacon Hill and trainer of 2015 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Runhappy, was a particular subject of interest as investigators learned more about the abandoned horses' condition and Borell made her home outside the state of Kentucky, thereby avoiding misdemeanor charges associated with the case. Although Borell's father, Charles, entered an Alford plea on several charges of animal abuse and relinquished control of the horses, their saga may not be over: state officials and animal lovers are hopeful the publicity surrounding the case may prompt lawmakers to tighten animal abuse laws in Kentucky, which has consistently ranked among the worst in the country for its animal protection statutes.
- No Steering, No Problem: Veteran Meneses Wins Gulfstream's First Without Reins: 2016 was also a year filled with double takes for railbirds, including this unusual incident at Gulfstream Park. Jockey Marcos Meneses was aboard Chia Ghost in a five-furlong turf contest when both his reins broke on the far turn. Meneses maintained composure , grabbed mane, and rode the horse using the neckstrap of the bridle. Not only did Meneses get both himself and his horse across the wire safely, they won.
- Deadly Fire Hits Lexington's Mercury Equine Center: A report a few weeks ago of a tragic barn fire at Mercury Equine Center in Central Kentucky caught the attention of many of our readers. Facility operators Eric and Kay Reed reported 23 Thoroughbreds were killed in the blaze, though staff were able to pull a number of frightened horses out of the barn while awaiting help. Lexington city officials have since announced they are investigating the amount of time it took 911 dispatchers to send fire crews to the facility. We report on one or two barn fires per year, often in the wintertime, which inspired an article in 2014 on how owners and managers can reduce their facility's risk.
- 'I Was Distraught': Havre De Grace Yearling 'Still For Sale' After Seven-Figure Reserve Mix-Up: The Keeneland September Yearling Sale set the stage for an unusual story this year when the first colt out of Horse of the Year Havre de Grace came into the ring. The colt was offered by consignor Timber Town Stables on behalf of Mandy Pope, who purchased Havre de Grace at auction for $10 million in 2012. When the hammer dropped at $1.9 million, Pope thought she had sold the horse, but it turned out a higher reserve had been placed on the horse by mistake instead. Pope made a statement to the media at the conclusion of the sale indicating her embarrassment over the error and noted the horse was still available for private sale. We later followed up with a short feature explaining how reserves are given to the auction house at public sale, and the system in place to prevent errors within the sales office.
- Hubbard Horse Disqualified From Futurity Win, Trainer's Suspension Waived: At the beginning of 2016, Ray followed up on a medication case from the 2015 Mountain Top New Mexico Quarter Horse Futurity. Winner Lilly Is First tested positive after her trial race for the Mountain Top finals for clenbuterol. The filly was owned in part by Ruidoso Downs owner R.D. Hubbard, along with Mike Abraham and Paul Blanchard. The owners of Lilly Is First, along with several other horses testing positive forfeited purse money associated with the positives, and trainer Michael Joiner was fined $1,000 for each clenbuterol overage and suspended 60 days. The suspension was later waived. Clenbuterol, a bronchodilator believed to have similar muscle-building side effects to anabolic steroids, remained a problem in flat racing throughout the year; embattled Pennsylvania trainer Ramon Preciado had his license revoked twice in 2016 due to a number of clenbuterol overages. Trainer John Servis accumulated three positives for the drug in June. Earlier in the year, New Mexico's racing commission announced an “aggressive” plan to test for clenbuterol out-of-competition.
- In Memoriam: A Cowboy's Ride: Chelsea Hackbarth touched many readers with her obituary of Jack, a long-time lead pony at Churchill Downs. Jack performed the thankless duties of a pony at the track without complaint for many years and taught Hackbarth the ropes during some of her first afternoons as a pony rider. “I won't forget watching him stand all by himself in the tunnel beneath the Twin Spires, back leg cocked contentedly as he took his breaks between races,” she wrote. “He may have been just another dark form alongside the silk-coated racehorses and colorfully-adorned jockeys prior to each race, but to me, he was a friend.”
- Two Horses Quarantined, One Dead At Turf Paradise Amid Equine Herpesvirus Concerns: We followed a couple of serious outbreaks of EHV-1 in 2016, both at Turf Paradise and at Sunland Park. Sunland Park's outbreak raged on for weeks, garnering dozens of positive EHV-1 tests. Before a quarantine was put in place there, several horses shipped to Turf Paradise, resulting in temporary shipping restrictions. Although EHV-1 outbreaks at racetracks and training facilities are not unheard of, readers had a lot of questions about just how easily EHV could be transmitted from horse to horse. We queried researchers about what we know and what we don't know about the illness, as well as possible treatments on the horizon.
- 'And There We Go With The Antics': Easy Winner Stops Short At Gulfstream Park: Sometimes Thoroughbreds leave us to wonder what exactly is going on between their ears, as demonstrated by Gulfstream Park runner Fallen Leaf. The filly looked to be set up for an easy win this summer when she suddenly ducked in, bounced off the rail and unseated jockey Matthew Rispoli. In her previous start, Fallen Leaf had zig-zagged down the stretch, giving her a bit of a reputation with Gulfstream announcer Pete Aiello. Aiello (and likely Rispoli, too) seemed to just be letting out a sigh of relief when the filly bounced off the rail, leading to a humorous stretch call which even made its way onto ESPN.
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