It's been more than 30 years since Valorie Lund got her career started as a Thoroughbred trainer at bush tracks in Elma and Yakima, Wash. Since 1985, according to Equibase, Lund has saddled some 4,667 starters and won 575 races.
While her stable consists mostly of claiming horses, she's had some good ones, including Atta Boy Roy, winner of the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes in 2010, and Absolutely Cool, who recently retired after winning 12 of 48 races over seven years. Atta Boy Roy was a $4,500 Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association Yearling Sale bargain who won stakes in four states and earned $602,276. Absolutely Cool, like Atta Boy Roy a Washington-bred, contested five consecutive runnings of the Phoenix Gold Cup at Turf Paradise. Absolutely Cool finished second twice, then won back-to-back renewals in 2014-15, and was third in his final try last February.
Lund didn't get a fair shake from me recently when I wrote about one of the horses in her barn, Mydancingshadow, who was euthanized after breaking down at the top of the stretch in a $3,000 claiming race at Turf Paradise Jan. 8. His was the third fatality over a course of just 24 races after racing had been cancelled two days in a row because of track condition.
Vince Francia, the general manager of Turf Paradise, was quoted accurately in that Jan. 10 article when he said: “I spoke to Scott (Stevens), who had ridden this horse in its previous race, and Scott felt the horse was lame right after that race.”
Stevens was aboard Mydancingshadow Dec. 20 when the horse was eased in the final furlong of a one-mile race, beaten 17 lengths. The horse was allowed to race back without working out to the satisfaction of the stewards, a rule that Francia wanted to have tightened.
I didn't talk to Lund or to David Lopez, who escaped serious injury when Mydancingshadow's front leg snapped and both horse and rider tumbled to the ground in that Jan. 8 race.
I should have.
“We try to be extremely cautious and do a lot of diagnostics,” Lund said when she called me after the article appeared, not to complain, but to let me know more about her operation. “We have a thermal camera in our barn. The vets who have worked with me will tell you we are a very low medication barn. I watch every horse train every morning. We are one of the barns that always put the horse first. If there's any question, we don't run them. I don't think we send a bad horse to the racetrack, and we've kept a lot of horses sound for a lot of years.”
Lund said she used to gallop her horses, but now talks to every exercise rider and outrider to find out how each one is going. “The last horse I galloped was Atta Boy Roy in 2010,” she said. “I've had both knees replaced since then and just can't get on them any more.”
After Mydancingshadow's December race, Lund recalled, Stevens didn't say there was anything wrong with the horse. “When Scott rode him, he told us this horse doesn't want to run a mile, to walk him for two weeks. Freshen him up and run him in a sprint, and he'd win,” she said.
“The rider (Lopez) told me there was nothing wrong with the horse,” she said of the breakdown. “We hit a bad spot in the track and he snapped a cannon bone.”
“I had never ridden the horse in the morning or afternoon,” said Lopez, when I reached him to talk about the incident. “That particular day we were just getting ready to go out and Scott Stevens said the horse goes funny behind. I'd say a good 25 percent of the horses here are struggling with the track being cuppy and loose. I could feel he was not pushing off that well behind, but the horse never gave me any sign or forewarning of being injured in front. He was on the bit and doing it all on his own. I was sitting about fourth, and the horse switched leads and just went down, really hard. It happened so fast I couldn't react.
“I feel for Valorie,” said Lopez, who suffered some bumps and bruises after being stepped on by a trailing horse. “She was in tears when she saw me after that race. She takes very good care of her horses. She's one that looks after them.”
Turf Paradise is not a member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Safety and Welfare Alliance. There are no pre-race veterinary inspections on the morning horses compete. Necropsies are not performed on horses fatally injured to help researchers learn more about preventive measures.
Trainers like Valorie Lund do all they can to protect the health and welfare of their horses and the people who ride them. So, too, should racetracks and state regulators. And people like me who write about those who take care of the horses should get their side of the story when things go wrong.
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