Voss: What Songbird’s Vet Reports Might Reveal About Racehorse Injuries

by | 09.13.2017 | 2:46pm
Songbird cruising through her first work of 2017

When Fox Hill Farm announced the retirement of champion Songbird Aug. 31, owner Rick Porter made the somewhat unconventional decision to post part of the filly's veterinary reports on Facebook to help fans understand the reasons for her departure. Those reports, from the office of Dr. Larry Bramlage at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., can serve as a reminder about the challenges of preventing serious injury on the track.

The filly's discharge papers revealed her issues were two-fold: she had proximal suspensory ligament desmitis in both hind legs and a lesion in a front distal cannon bone.

The hind leg issue refers to swelling in the suspensory ligament, which is the one that runs down the back of the leg and holds the sesamoid bones at the back of the ankle in place. Although Porter's statement indicated Bramlage picked up on the ligament issue quickly, Songbird's discharge report shows she probably appeared sound at a jog in a straight line – it was only when she was turned in circles the lameness became apparent.

As is typical in lameness exams, Bramlage applied a temporary nerve block at strategic points in the hind legs to check whether Songbird would jog circles sound when relieved of discomfort from the hind suspensory ligaments. It was then he saw a lameness in her front legs, which was almost completely symmetrical, prompting follow-up diagnostics revealing the lesion.  

The fact she had discomfort in both her front and hind legs reminds me of something Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director at the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, told me about the difficulty in preventing fatal injuries. A horse with pre-existing issues in both front or both back legs probably won't bobble from one to the other like a conventionally ‘lame' horse. Instead, she may move in a short or choppy way, which could more easily escape detection, especially to a trainer unfamiliar with the horse's natural movement – a particular problem for horses that move barns a lot.

Initially, I wondered whether there were parallels between Songbird's issues and the types of pre-existing damage often seen on necropsy in fatal breakdowns. Although her cannon bone issues could have ultimately resulted in a fatal breakdown, Bramlage said neither her suspensory ligament desmitis nor the cannon bone damage were the result of months of wear and tear, most commonly the case in racetrack fatalities. He suspects both injuries trace back to earlier this year, probably some time after her first race of the season.

“Horses that don't have any obvious problems but you know their performance is declining, usually you find more than one problem going on,” Bramlage said. “The problems in the bottom of the cannon bone, though they bother a horse, they're not exquisitely painful compared to proximal suspensories, which have a much higher nerve supply, so a little inflammation in the top of the suspensory causes a lot more lameness than something down around the fetlock.”

Bramlage did think Songbird's case was a good example of how lamenesses can ‘hide,' and explains why, after a serious injury, trainers often tell the media they never saw a problem in the affected leg.

“There are many horses that are just not going right, but the secondary lameness (in this instance, the proximal suspensory) is covering up the primary problem, which might be in the bottom of the cannon bone, it might be something in the knee, it might be a simple chip fracture,” Bramlage said. “Where that's important is people say ‘How can the horse have a condylar fracture and never have shown anything?' Well, that's perfectly plausible if you have some low-grade problems going on in the cannon bone, and that causes them to get sore behind. There are horses who have unknown problems to anyone on the outside, but the horse probably knows it's there because he's getting sore someplace else protecting that area. If that's not recognized, then the primary problem may break and no one ever really knew that it was there.

“When people say that happens, it truly does happen.”

So what's the solution? At this point, Bramlage believes it comes down to trainers taking cues from horses.

“The stables who are best at detecting problems early often detect them because the horse is not happy or the horse changes,” Bramlage said. “Even though they're not frankly, lame, they begin to suspect something and they start looking for it. The ones that things sneak by them are the ones that are willing to accept, ‘Oh the horse has always moved like that.' That's usually not the case. There are a few instances where horses do move unusually but usually if a horse is moving unusually, he's protecting something.”  

Songbird was lucky in many ways. One of them was having spent three racing seasons in the barn of Jerry Hollendorfer, with a staff who knew her well and recognized she was not quite herself following her three starts this year (despite winning two Grade 1s). She was also lucky to have an owner in Porter who was willing to ship her to Rood and Riddle for evaluation and spare no expense to diagnose the issue. One of the biggest problems in racing is that not all horses are as lucky.    

  • lastromantribune

    One of the biggest problems in racing is that not all horses are as lucky. true and also true is not all the owners can afford such expertise. surely a 5k claimer is not going to rood & riddle. it would be nice but lets be realistic. usually they just get time off (if there lucky)

    • ForLoveOfTheGame

      It would be nice if there were some track rules about that, as their lives DO DEPEND ON IT.

    • MaryK

      No, but the point here was the subtle “not quite right” is what made the trainer and owner take a closer look. The 5k claimer has an owner & trainer, too

  • Bella

    Bless Songbird. Bless her owner, Rick Porter, for it appears, opting to send her to Rood and Riddle saved her life. Thanks to Dr. Bramlage for being so thorough in his examination of this wonderful mare. More owners need to take a good look at this article and listen more closely to their horses, observe and become as knowing as possible of signs that lead to such problems. When you love a horse, you can do no less.

    • Rick Porter

      My team noticed she was “off” behind in the post parade before the Personal Ensign. That is why she went to Dr. Bramlage.

      • Foxhunter

        Here’s to you Mr. Porter for putting your horse first. Foxhunting is my sport & I am thankful that my 4 OTTBs had good trainers and good owners who went the extra mile & retired them sound. They all had successful careers & now I’m reaping the benefit in their second careers.

        • Lehane

          Foxhunting…?
          How disgusting!
          And you call it a “sport”..?

  • Hamish

    My hat’s off to Mr. Porter for allowing transparency in sharing private vet records and to Dr. Bramlage for such a thorough analysis of the Champion’s ailments. May this serve as an example of the good that can come from sharing openly the medical records on our horses, a policy that should be universally embraced by vets, owners, trainers and regulators. Granted, not all owners/trainers can afford to send their horse to Rood & Riddle, but they can all act responsibly and humanely and give their horse some rest when they are behaving “off” and lay off the drug regiments, deemed therapeutic or not, while looking for that one last race. Too often that last race syndrome results in a poor horse lying on the racetrack instead of enjoying a sensible retirement.

    • Marilyn Shively

      The last race syndrome—happens too often with dire consequences

    • ForLoveOfTheGame

      Perfectly stated, Hamish! How hard is it to give the horse some time to recuperate and see if it makes a positive difference? I so wish more effort in this area would become the norm.

    • Lehane

      Well said, Hamish. Thank you!

  • Well done, Natalie! This article delves into some of the subtleties and nuances in veterinary diagnosis and the response of owners and trainers to form changes without obvious physical reasons. Kudos all round, and especially to Mr. Porter for considering the welfare of his mare and then sharing the rationale behind his decision due to the racing public’s profound interest in her and in her welfare.

  • Bo Mitchell

    Amen!!! If you are going to be in the racing business, you need to know all the horses you have in your care! There life depends on it.

    • Blue Larkspur

      “Their” … perhaps a test of gait abnormality recognition as part of getting that trainer’s license?

      • ForLoveOfTheGame

        Great idea!!!!

      • I think that is a good idea. Ought to be a must.

      • Lehane

        Can I mention here that in Australia when a horse has an unusual gait e.g. left fore swings out, the chief vet of that racing jurisdiction takes note of it and decides whether or not the horse can be accepted suitable to race. The trainer and owners have no say.

        • Blue Larkspur

          Excellent, but then, Australia actually PROSECUTED their cobalt loading trainers, unlike the nothing that happened here …

          • Lehane

            In the past few years I’ve been getting a sense that the stewards in my state are coming down hard on doping violations. Last year for instance, a trainer found guilty of a banned substance charge had his licence suspended for 12 months. Trainer felt penalty was severe and took it to the appeals panel which then overturned the stewards’ penalty. Stewards not happy about this so they went further and they too took it to the appeals panel stating their case. Appeals panel convinced and found for the stewards and trainer lost his licence for 12 months. Also the stewards seem to be doing more unannounced visits to trainers’ stables. I believe they now have a couple of former police officers in their team. In Queensland recently, that State’s racing jurisdiction (equal to your racing commissions) appointed a former high ranking Police officer as its CEO. By all reports he’s doing a great job and is big on animal welfare.

          • Blue Larkspur

            We let a fox guard our henhouse ….

  • Elle D

    I ran into Mr. Porter Monday at the Keeneland sale. Still looking a little frail, but positive and in the game he loves so well.

  • Concerned Observer

    Who is watching the horse? Hard to say in a multiple location training operation. The owner’s horses are in the hands of the staff…..so he/she has to hope the staff is good, attentive and has the continuity to see subtle changes in his/her stock.

    Great discussion here about the challenges of reading the changes in a horses attitude.

    • FagerPhD

      A horse as gritty as her is likely to be stoic and hide any signs of pain. Tough game out there.

      • Concerned Observer

        I was talking about race horses in general. Graded stakes horses always get the best amounts of attention. But the lesser horses, not so much. Horses signal in subtle ways that something is a miss. The best trainers and their staffs have a sixth sense when something is just not quite right. The great Allen Jerkins is said to have often visited his horses late at night just to observe, just to see if their behavior was “normal”.But normal is slightly different for every horse and only a period of observation can be the basis for evaluations.

        • FagerPhD

          Yeah, I’ve done research involving animals and it can be hard to quantify “normal” especially in prey animals.

        • Olebobbowers

          The late, great, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons mentored me as a 15 year old exercise rider in N.Y., and much of what he taught me was certainly never proven wrong as I trained horses for decades. In fact, it was thanks to his suggestions that enabled me to take cheap claimers to the winner’s circle in Stakes. The one point Concerned Observer brought out about the Giant Killer, Allen Jerkins being such a close observer of details pertaining to the horses under his care fits right in with one of the most meaningful tips Mr. Fitz passed along to me, that fits in perfectly with the subject of this entire subject. He told me, ‘Son, anytime spent in the presence of your horses, is never wasted time, as one small detail might stand out to you as concerning, or possibly beneficial.’ He was right, oh was he ever! Rest in Peace my mentor, and know your teachings stayed in my mind for the 6 decades since we’d stand outside the paddock at Belmont Park as you mentored this kid, who at age 15 was the youngest licensee ever, in N.Y..Each time I watch the Belmont races, I observe exactly where we would stand, and it warms my heart. ~

          • artistinwax

            I love this story. It is where I want to be when people are talking about horses, just listening to the great ones speak.

          • Olebobbowers

            Thanks artistinwax. It’s such a shame others don’t share your thought on this. Seems their ego won’t allow it. Many thoroughbreds are ruined, even killed, because of that. Sad, but true.

          • Lehane

            “Many thoroughbreds are ruined, even killed, because of that”. Never a truer word spoken. Seen far too much of it working hands on with racehorses a few years ago and since see it every time I watch trackwork and in racing.

          • peggy conroy

            Two of the greatest–I spend a day with Sunny Jim as a kid, along with Bold Ruler–wonderful privilege and was delighted when Jerkens bought my first broodmare’s yearling and won over 200k with him when purses were small!
            For those of us fortunate enough to begin riding at 3 then spending a life doing the whole spectrum of “horse”, learning from the highest class practitioners can’t be appreciated enough.

          • Olebobbowers

            Wow, I enjoyed your post a bunch! Just seeing you also were familiar with 2 of my hero’s of the past. Lest I forget, you prolly recall that Mr. Fitz was somewhat deformed with a, oh, I can’t say the word cos I worship his memory…let’s just say, at 15 I was 4’10”, and weighed 70ish pounds, and that put me at eye level with him and he enjoyed chatting a bit more than with a tall person. Plus, he enjoyed the questions I asked him, as he recognized my desire to dedicate my life to the sport he spent his lifetime in. I really enjoyed all you had to say, as it was extremely interesting in many ways! Got some guests arriving shortly, but as the ole song said…thanks for the memories.

  • Neigh Sayer

    Just a few notations. It was good she was in Hollendorfer’s barn where she was well taken care of, but he nor his assistant noticed anything amiss. They said she was better than ever going in that race and came out of the race fine with no problems, in fact saying she was a happy horse and thought she won the race and was doing great. And that’s not surprising, it was harder to see than originally reported as stated in the article, the lameness wasn’t readily apparent and not noticed until jogged in circles under exam.
    The other thing is the mention of declining performance. Her performance wasn’t declining. I know most were disappointed that she wasn’t blowing fields away that they thought she should, but winning by a smaller margin or losing by a head is not necessarily “declining performance.” There is no evidence of any declining performance but there was evidence she didn’t get better or faster from 3 to 4. In fact her last race is arguably one of the best of her career.

    • Natalie Voss

      Your second point is excellent, Neigh Sayer. I should have been a little more specific — Dr. Bramlage stated Songbird was talented enough to perform through these issues, as evidenced by her strong placings in those races. His reference to ‘declining performance’ was a general one, since that is usually how these things are detected.

      • Neigh Sayer

        I should have also thanked you for fleshing out much of that vet report. There was a lot of misinformation being spread immediately after her retirement, and some of that came from Porter’s fresh and emotional state when talking about it. One bit of misinformation was that the chip was “loose” or floating, it was not, the chip was non displaced and had not separated from the cannon. Anyway, thanks for bringing some of this out factually.

        • Rick Porter

          Dr. Bramlage stated to us that it was 3/4ths loose and was somewhat surprised it didn’t break loose during one of her last two races.

          • Neigh Sayer

            I think we’re now into technical verbage. I understand what he might have casually said to you and why, but I was only clarifying what some were spreading around as not accurate. The fracture line may have been considered at about 3/4 of the chip, I don’t doubt that, and that is very serious of an impending catastrophic failure, but if it hasn’t broken off it isn’t “loose” and if it was it would then be considered a displaced chip which it wasn’t.
            You obviously, in light of his report and conversations, did the right thing to retire this outstanding mare. I wish you the best of luck in the future and hope you find another that brings you as much joy at the races as she did. And best of luck to Songbird as well. There will be plenty that will want her and willing to spend top dollar to get her and have no doubt she will have the best of care with people that love her.

          • Lehane

            Thank you Mr Porter for looking further into Songbird’s problem. From what i’ve read, i think she was extremely lucky not to have broken down. Racing needs more owners like you.

    • FagerPhD

      Your first point is important– how many horses have non-trivial injuries as Songbird did but hide them well and appear superficially sound? That’s when you get a catastrophic breakdown, or a “bad step” out of “nowhere”… Importance of early detection and screening!

      • Judy Gaddis

        Perfectly said however also gave me chills as I just could not help myself but to begin to run down and remember the long list of beloved horses who suffered those “catastrophic breakdowns” and re-live the helpless, gut wrenching feelings I still have today when I hear the very mention of their names……

    • EightBelles🐎

      Wonder how much Songbird’s temperament contributed to her trainer’s thought that she was okay? I’ve heard she’s extremely mild mannered and very sweet; doesn’t sound like a horse who would complain even when she’s got something to whine about.

      • Lehane

        The equine is a prey animal. They’re the furtherest from exhibiting that something is amiss with them. We’ve domesticated them and it’s our responsibility to be vigilant about their well being.
        Mr Porter got it so right!

  • Ida Lee

    I saw Dr. Bramlage at R&R last March with Songbird …. she was being walked in a wide circle and Dr. Bramlage was looking at her every move from different angles….she is as big and beautiful as we think she is and walked perfectly fine to our non-medical eyes….shortly thereafter, she was back to training and racing….little did we know there was trouble brewing already….I’m just so happy she’s safe and was checked out by the best …. I’m assuming none of these issues will affect her adversely in her new life as a broodmare….

    • Victoria Keith

      Hi Ida, I don’t know who you saw, but it wasn’t Songbird. She was sent to CA in late January, so it couldn’t have been her you saw in March.

      • Ida Lee

        I asked the Tour Guide who the gorgeous mare was Dr. Bramlage was checking out her leg…she told us that she couldn’t tell me because of confidentiality rules …. when he finished looking at her, he passed right in front of us and she had Songbird’s markings….of course, they didn’t tell us it was her but some other people on the tour looked at each other and smiled and one whispered “Songbird” which is exactly what I thought…but if it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her… it had to be a MDO cause the mare looked just like Rachel and Songbird with very similar markings…..

        • Olebobbowers

          Next time ask to check their tattoo, Ida Lee. (lol, just teasing) ;*)

          • Ida Lee

            LOL ….. When you walk in for the Tour of the hospital, first thing you see is the surgery room with a big window so you can see what’s going on….they had a horse ready for surgery….was having a chip removed from his left knee … anyway, wouldn’t tell us who the horse was….I just know he was famous….oh well….if it wasn’t Songbird Dr. Bramlage was working with, she was some spectacular looking girl….who looked just like Songbird..I’ll keep dreaming it was her…..

    • goodhorsekeeping

      As Victoria mentioned, Songbird flew to CA Jan 23rd. She was injured in March but she stayed in CA.

      You may have seen a different MdO filly.

  • Jack The Ripper

    Good to see that the right decision was made in this case. The truth is American racing is very hard on horses. Speed speed speed. 22/46. That’s the mind set from the time that their broken in until they retire. People love to say horses are not machines but love to talk about the final times of a race. Songbird was a good horse but an alternative style of racing may have led to a longer carreer.

  • Richard Calais

    She didn’t travel well in the race before last and the last race I said it in a previous comment now I could see that and they couldn’t lucky she didn’t breakdown

    • scoobysnacks

      I’d still like someone to start checking under busses to see if Jerry Hollendorfer’s beneath one. Porter is talking out of his rear end if he thinks she was obviously lame in the paddock and a bunch of people were telling him something was up and questioning his team’s horsemanship. Totally false and he knows it. Dr. Bramlage practically said so. No need to pull that crap. He made the call to keep racing her knowing about the earlier stuff in March. If she was at risk of a breakdown, he needs to own his role in that.

      • Victoria Keith

        I have to respond to this. Several people, including myself, watching on TV had the view of her turning into the track and noticed a lameness in her hind end. I was recording so was able to show Rick the video and he saw what we saw. We reported a suspected hind limb lameness and then Dr. Bramlage concurred that she showed a hind limb lameness. Just a lucky guess? Also, we have not known she has had this injury since March since she hasn’t had this injury since March. As Dr. Bramlage reported, the injury probably went back as far as sometime around the Delaware Handicap.

  • wolfstraum

    the last line says it all…..Songbird had one of the best diagnosticians in the US and an owner who cared enough to go to extremes with her…..so glad she has retired

  • Ron S

    I wonder if Arrogate is protecting something that hasn’t been detected.

    • mongo98

      Arrogate’s race in Dubai was too much, he’s never been the same.

      • Ron S

        In addition to his big wins in Travers, Breeders Cup Classic, and Pegasus. The race in Dubai might have taken its toll. He definately has not looked like his old self in last two starts. I know they say he doesn’t like Del Mar, but just maybe something is giving him pain.

    • Minneola

      I’m wondering just as much why there hasn’t been any reports about Arrogate being checked out by a top veterinarian. Or, if he was, why there seems to be so much hesitancy in providing the public that information. If – and that is a big IF — he races again, there will be money bet on that race and it would seem to be bordering on something really smelly if important information is not divulged ahead of time.

      • scoobysnacks

        They don’t owe you a report, he’s privately owned. Most things that happen to most horses aren’t divulged to the betting public but it’s not some conspiracy. If the track says he’s sound to race and you think that’s garbage, either challenge their methods of determining it or let it go. Juddmonte will probably have had Arrogate looked over, but how a horse’s soundness is represented to people who aren’t experts can lead to negative influences on a horse’s buzz as a breeding prospect or bad PR in the sport when they’re otherwise fine.

        • Minneola

          Legally, they are not obligated to provide us any information but realistically, they are doing the sport a huge disservice by thumbing their noses at the fans as well as those that wager. It also fuels speculation that grows a cloud of suspicion, which adds to bad public relations. Also, your conjecture that it might have negative influences regarding breeding prospects is unfounded. Of course, perhaps, you have little faith in the abilities of those professional breeders to know what they are doing.

    • goodhorsekeeping

      He’s also been growing like crazy. He’s such a big colt, that kind of stuff takes a massive toll. Very similar to what is going on with Copper Bullet, who is growing too big too fast, and has since he was a youngster. The curse of Unbridled’s Song.

    • I’ve thought that too, but as mongo98 says in the comment below this one….Dubai may have taken it all out of him. He wouldn’t be the first horse to come home from such a performance and then stall some.

  • This is so important to know. Vitally important. And it’s so good that the people around her could tell she was different in some way, and they didn’t ignore it. If it seemed small, or unrelated, you could see how that could end up in tragedy. I guess this comes down to trusting your instincts. If you know a horse and know her well, and something’s the least bit “off,” it’s better to get the help you need. Technology today: there are so many ways these days to see what’s going on.

  • Tuesday MacIlhoyle

    Thankful that folks cared enough to get her thoroughly evaluated. It makes me bitter in a sense that my mare’s owner failed to show this much compassion and instead sold her off (read gave her away) where after her subsequently discovered bilateral hind DSLD ultimately caused her demise. Things like this make providing aftercare a very bitter affair.

  • Debra Sheffield

    I am hoping Mark and Norman Casse are reading this and really looking at their horse as needing further evaluation.

    • Jenna Heusi

      But not Baffert?

      • Blue Larkspur

        There are several folks who think they can diagnose Classic Empire through their computer screen, better than Casse.

        • Olebobbowers

          As a lifelong horseman that has served as Asst. Trainer to several HOF Trainers as well as training what were once cheap claimers, until I took them over and won multiple Stakes and multiple placings in Graded Stakes I feel qualified to judge Norman Casse as a very caring horseman of the upper echelon. I have never met him, so I am not biased in any way, but he has caught my attention in a good way, and deserves a ranking higher than the norm. Trust me when I say Compliments on trainers from me are rare, so Mr. Casse has passed every test to gain my admiration. I especially honor the fact that he is not only capable, but truly cares about his horses happiness, which is a rare quality in a ‘big’ trainer in this day and age, but means the world to this lifelong horseman that without doubt, would give his life to save a horse. God Bless you Mr. Casse, and know you have restored my faith that horseman still exist, albeit in minimal numbers.

      • Olebobbowers

        ~Amen~

  • Kerry Couch

    I agree with the kudos for Mr Porter & the Songbird team. Sharing the xrays & now this detailed report is excellent! I have had TBs for 50 yrs and I definitely gained knowledge from this article. I will supplement some comments here to agree how very stoic some horses can be. I ride so I can some times feel something just isn’t quite right despite no overt signs of lameness. This has enabled me to “save”many a horse from more serious issues versus waiting for acute lameness onset. I imagine trainers & owners incorporate feedback from exercise riders/jockeys/grooms?

  • the buzz23

    Maybe Arrogate should get a thorough look as well ? Surprised Coolmore hasn’t done the same.

    • scoobysnacks

      How do you know they haven’t?

      • whirlaway

        Arrogate has not had a posted work since Aug 14th as he is in my VS and pretty low key, maybe that is BB’s plan. Your right about we don’t know much since his last start.
        Just keep a watch time will tell.

        • scoobysnacks

          He’s training up to the BCC. They’re not gonna work too hard to tighten the screws with works right now but he’s probably getting some extra Wheaties or something if they think he’s lighter than they need. Probably don’t want to burn off the weight with too much exercise just yet.

          • whirlaway

            Undoubtedly it is a new way of training these days not just for him but others couple of disappointing races and 3 yr olds are off to the breeding shed. Keep those
            Wheaties coming.

      • Lehane

        No doubt they have. But why aren’t they giving updates on this fantastic horse who was recently celebrated the best in the world?

        • scoobysnacks

          What’s to update about? If he hates the track and lost weight post DWC, the obvious situation is that he’s trying to make the best of the location he’ll have to run at for the BCC and Baffert’s already said they’re gonna try to put some more weight on him. It’s not anything to give regular press conferences about.

        • Meydan Rocks

          Wit Classic Empire’s trainer. He talks entirely too much and has been CRUCIFIED for talking.
          This trainer from whom you would like to see updates. I don’t think so. When he so much as sneezes, he gets a citation for either training his horses to hard, fast or something. Alas, we ain’t gonna get no updates till that animal is well and ready.

    • Lehane

      The silence about Arrrogate’s condition is deafening.

      • scoobysnacks

        He hates Del Mar. That’s not a condition of the horse, it’s a condition of the track.

      • Blue Larkspur

        He just worked a half in :49.60, 38th of 52 this morning.
        No rah rah report from the usual twenty-something reporter on the other site … I expect a retirement announcement soon. I doubt Baffert will start him in the BCC just to see him run up the track again…

  • Bob SGmith

    Excellent story Natalie. Appreciate all the detail. Songbird was a wonderful race horse and I wish her the best in the breeding shed. And, Mr. Porter is the consummate owner.

  • Bruce mcNeill

    The above photograph says it all…note the hind right hoof buried in the dirt (stabbing)…note the poor extension on the right front front with knee bent and toe of the hoof pointed down. all her injuries where caused by poor hoof care, they all know it, yet no one will say it…why?

    • Ben van den Brink

      I tend to think a little different, she put,s a lot of power into her action, so a track or training track has be too firm for het natural action and or gait.

      • Lehane

        A hard track exacerbates an already existing problem with the feet.

        • ben

          Not only with the feet btw.

    • Lehane

      There are a couple of highly qualified people in Australia who have written to the racing authorities here about horses running on dysfunctional feet. But the racing industry doesn’t want to know about it. In the meantime, many horses are racing on bad feet e.g. underrun heels, asymmetrical, etc. And the horses continue to suffer…….!

    • Blue Larkspur

      Race track farriers do what the trainers want – long toes and low heels to make the horse stride longer ( which counter-produces against a natural break-over ) and they nail them on tight so that the horses don’t catch and edge and pull them off more, which results in smaller feet and more constricted heels.

  • Kathryn R Wilt

    This was significant transparency on Mr. Porter’s part. With building our fan base through non-owners and 2-buck gamblers, it is important to reveal the advancements in care, the conscience of safety and the correction of quick-fix violation. The explanation of Dr. Bramlage’s diagnostic steps was a revelation. Excellent article, Natalie.

  • Nona Kaenel

    One of my horses fractured his extensor process and never took a bad step. It was only detected when heat and pulse was discovered in the foot. Took film and we were shocked. Another time I noticed a woman’s horse was short stepping in the rear. I told her to contact her vet and look at the front. Vet came and injected the hocks. Horse was still short stepping in the back and I told the lady “Your problem is not in the hind. Your problem is with the front. X-ray the front feet because the horse is compensating for the front.” They took X-rays and the horse had two fractured navicular bones in the front. If you notice a bad step, it make not be a rock. If something is not quite right, have a vet check the horse over. One vet call may save you a lot of heartache.

    • Lehane

      Correct. So often the horse is compensating.

  • The Word

    Very sad we needed all of this info. I was good with she’s retired. The rest isn’t any of my business.

  • Olebobbowers

    Curious as to why no one has pointed out that her trainer resented the owner’s decision to go beyond the fact that he, the trainer, announced that he ‘examined’ her the morning following her race, and found her to be in perfect condition. I posted before she was diagnosed at Rood and Riddle that I would prefer Rood and Riddle’s high tech equipment over Dorf’s ‘exam’ with zero equipment. Resenting the owner’s decision to override his, seemed less than a Hall of Famers concern should have. Thank God this owner was smart enough to protect this special champion, as she certainly was deserving of nothing less. ~

    • Tony

      I think you have made a really interesting point. Songbird, despite her trainer’s exam, was not in perfect condition. It appears that it was impossible to determine Songbird’s maladies at the track, and only with R &R’s resources were these maladies discovered. Nonetheless, if Jerry Hollendorfer were to tell me my horse was in perfect condition, I’d believe my horse was in perfect condition.

      • Olebobbowers

        I wouldn’t, because there are many mitigating factors to be considered, and Dorf is in for the fast buck over considering possibly even a rest to allow a horse to regain its full potential. The Voided Claims list would verify from where I speak.

        • Tony

          For those of us who are passionate about racing, but don’t have inside industry experience, training or being at the track regularly, don’t REALLY know and don’t really understand the fundamental ins and outs of the sport. From all I’ve read and from the races I’ve seen, I would have thought Hollendorfer was one of the guys to be very trusted. Guys like Rick Porter et al do give hime horses like Songbird et al.
          Thanks for the reply.

  • ctgreyhound

    Songbird has an angel(s) on her shoulder in the form of proficient, hyper attentive connections. Their attention to detail has kept Songbird shielded from harm as reasonably as can be expected. While no thoroughbred wears armor plat

  • I am so grateful to this owner and trainer for catching her problem and responding in the way that was best for her.
    Thank you Rood and Riddle for finding the problems and I’m so grateful that it was shared with fans a bit. This is such an insight into why we lose a fan favorite to retirement and helps us know and accept it. Plus it teaches us things we need to know about the athletes in this sport we love.
    Pleased she’s going to be ok and go onto her next career and continue to be the happiest horse possible.

    • Olebobbowers

      “I am so grateful to this owner and trainer for catching her problem and responding in the way that was best for her.” Your statement would make sense if you narrowed the decision to retire her was solely the owner’s decision. The trainer was pi$$ed off, as he defended his ‘exam’ the morning after her race. I posted that was absurd, as the closest Dorf has available is a thermometer, while Rood and Riddle has all high tech equipment invented in the 20th century. You might consider it was the owners, and only the owner’s, decision. Thank God he paid no attention to his trainers B.S..

  • Edgar Frose

    Did Byk apologize yet?

  • Michael Castellano

    Excellent article. It suggests that a horse like Classic Empire might have such a similar problem. His behavior seems to indicate there’s a problem, one that is escaping detection, perhaps, but not wanting to run in the workouts is an obvious clue that something is wrong. One day they may develop an MRI technique, or some other variation, that is small enough and works quickly enough to scan them. I don’t have any knowledge about spotting these problems, but you could just tell something was up with Songbird.

  • EightBelles🐎

    The fact that she ran as well as she did, while hiding those problems, only demonstrates what a great horse she is. Sad to lose her on the track, but ultimately I couldn’t be happier that she gets to enjoy the peaceful retirement she deserves. Wish every horse could be so lucky.

  • Dave Stevenson

    well done! an incredible “save” for the future of horse racing

  • McGov

    She was winning DESPITE these issues…..running nowhere near her best, and yet winning.
    I worry about Arrogate….I think his situation is even more of a concern if you consider his significant regression. He SHOULD be making greater progress as he develops in his 4 yr old campaign.
    In horse racing it is the early detection of an issue and a timely corrective path that is paramount in achieving the very most from the athlete….while keeping them safe etc.
    Imagine if Songbird swam for a couple months earlier in the year versus training on a track? I am happy that this horse was managed very well…..and she is safe, and retired….but…it is constructive to point out that there was STILL room for improvement..that even the very best can do better.
    Detecting heat and inflammation with patient, diligent, knowledgeable hands. Evaluations that don’t simply jog forward……but walking in circles and even backwards walking…..routine blood-work…..mobile diagnostic tools are handy…to own even ;).
    It is costly to own racehorses. They are like a wine glass….easy to break with these tiny legs and these big muscular bodies.
    We have improved greatly in diagnosing today versus yesteryear’s….but these tools are only useful if we use them…nudge nudge Mr Baffert.

  • Snowman

    Ok, horsemen or vets, help me out… would not injuries such as “swelling in a suspensory ligament” and a “lesion on the cannon bone” cause Songbird’s system to respond with swelling and heat in the affected areas? Did someone miss something? Are trainers at this level still using their eyes and hands to detect what could obviously turn into a catastrophic injury? Even on a multi-million dollar horse? Simple thermal technology can detect temp changes easily to .1 degree and better ones to .01 degrees and while they wont diagnose the problem, it surely would identify a problem area. I don’t understand why trainers are not required to utilize todays technology. Animals die because owners and trainers are stuck in the past. Sad.

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