As 2018 comes to a close, we're taking a look back at some of our most popular stories of the year. We've done this for the past several years at the Paulick Report. Find previous editions here, here, and here.
As usual, the stories that were most important to you this year were a mixed bag. From horse care to trainer ejections to nutrition to rider safety, your interests were many and varied.
- Ruidoso Downs Bans Trainer After Four-Win Day In All American Derby Trials Although most of our coverage centers around Thoroughbreds, this story on the ejection of Quarter Horse trainer Josue Ponce from Ruidoso Downs got more traffic than anything else this year. Ponce had four winners from four starters in the All American Derby trials, but two of them were vanned off afterwards and the others were “in distress” and required immediate attention. Readers also flocked to an announcement in March that Ruidoso banned 2017 All American Futurity-winning trainer James Padget II. Padgett is the former assistant to Judd Kearl, who received a 19-year suspension in Texas for five nomifensine positives.
- Unsurprisingly, 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify was a hot topic on our website throughout the year, from his progress to his retirement. One story that got a lot of clicks detailed the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's findings the week after the Kentucky Derby. Justify appeared to have slight discomfort in his left hind leg when walking on a gravel area outside the barn on Sunday morning. Trainer Bob Baffert dismissed concerns about the horse's condition as “scratches,” a type of skin irritation common in wet conditions. Commission veterinarians discovered the horse was sound two days later and had no evidence of scratches. A thorough workup revealed a healing bruise. Justify's retirement would be announced less than three months later, in late July due to minor swelling in an ankle.
The chestnut's Belmont Stakes victory was also not without controversy: owners Gary West and Mike Repole raised questions about the entry and trip of Justify stablemate Restoring Hope, which they said put their runners at a disadvantage and set the race up for Justify. That got readers talking about whether Restoring Hope jockey Florent Geroux's ride was intended to benefit Justify and if so, what constitutes appropriate race strategy and good sportsmanship?
Before (and after) his retirement, reports swirled indicating Justify would stand stud at Coolmore in a deal pegged at $75 million. After initially denying those reports, part owner WinStar Farm confirmed in September that the colt would be retiring to Coolmore. His fee for 2019 will be $150,000.
- Cooling Out On The Track: Science Says You May Be Doing It Wrong This Horse Care myth-buster piece questioned the long-held wisdom by many hardboot horsemen that allowing a horse to drink too much water after exercise could lead to founder. In fact, experts say horses need to rehydrate promptly after exercise to allow the body to cool efficiently. Contributor Denise Steffanus found that other common cooling out habits like sheets and drip-drying also run counter to what science suggests is best for reducing body temperature after a workout.
- Zenyatta Loses 2018 Into Mischief Foal, Mare ‘Bounced Back Well' Zenyatta's history as a broodmare has been peppered with disappointments, and this year was no exception. The Horse of the Year lost a foal by Into Mischief this spring due to low grade placentitis. As Denise Steffanus would later note in an explainer piece, placentitis is an inflammation of the placenta which can be very difficult to detect, depending upon the cause of the infection. Zenyatta's 2014 War Front filly died as a weanling after suffering a pasture accident and her 2016 War Front died soon after birth from meconium aspiration.
- Congress Passes Agriculture Bill Defining Horses As Livestock, Not Pets Horses have always been difficult to define – to some people they're pets and to others they're commodities more akin to livestock. This year's Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 defines them officially as livestock, which the American Horse Council says will make way for livestock market development programs. The Act also allows horses to be subject to the PAWS Act, normally reserved for pets, “which allows equines to fall within the scope of property damage subject to compensation.” Readers had mixed feelings about this definition, which for many raised questions about their regulatory treatment in the slaughter pipeline. The definition of horses as livestock or pets has tax implications too, as we detailed in 2014, and different agencies can consider horses to fall into different categories.
- Racing regulation in Pennsylvania has generated plenty of headlines this year (as it has done in years past), and readers kept up to date on many of the developments. Investigations from former regulator Joe Gorajec revealed a slew of post-race drug tests which contained substances (in one case, a Class 1 drug found after a Standardbred stakes race) which didn't result in violations or regulatory action. A commentary from attorney Alan Pincus voicing concerns about inaction and conflicts of interest in Pennsylvania's system added to Gorajec's questions; the commission later responded, saying Pincus's commentary was inaccurate and misleading.
Also this year, Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission executive director Thomas Chukkas was sued in federal court by owner/trainers who were suspended when they failed to comply with commission subpoenas.
Meanwhile, state officials continue to file criminal charges against trainers in Pennsylvania for rigging publicly-exhibited contests as part of an ongoing federal investigation into corruption and drug use in the state. The total number of trainers charged in Dauphin County climbed to six in November, but investigators say “hundreds” of owners and trainers are implicated in the investigation.
- Churchill Downs Denies Derby Media Credential To Longtime Broadcaster Caton Bredar The war between ADW giants TwinSpires and TVG heated up this spring when longtime racing analyst Caton Bredar was told she would be denied media credentials for the Kentucky Derby because of her part-time association with TVG. Bredar, who was applying to report for Louisville's Wave 3 News, expressed concern over the precedent Churchill was setting, given how many turf writers and broadcasters freelance for multiple outlets. After an outcry from the Paulick Report readers, CDI informed Bredar she would be credentialed for the event. A brief thaw took place this fall when TVG carried signal from Churchill Downs' fall meet, including the Breeders' Cup undercard.
- ‘Scary' Morning Incident At Belterra Park Brings Safety Protocols Into Question Chelsea Hackbarth brought us a sobering report from Cincinnati's Belterra Park this summer, where an injured exercise rider was left lying on a busy track after a spill during morning training. After EMTs walked her to a waiting ambulance, security guards demanded to see rider Kellie Hedges' racing license before allowing her to be treated for her injuries. Hedges suffered a broken leg, five broken ribs, and a broken clavicle. At the time of Hackbarth's story, she had undergone surgeries with at least one more expected.
2018 was a ongoing reminder of the dangers inherent to racing or exercising horses. Odanis Acuna, veteran exercise rider for trainer Ken McPeek, died in a training accident in November, while jockey Jose Luis Flores died after a serious spill at Parx.
- A Slippery Situation: Selecting The Best Oil For A Horse's Diet One of our top stories for traffic this year was three years old. In 2015, Jen Roytz helped readers sort out the difference between corn, rice bran, and other oils commonly fed to horses. Different oils have different levels of fatty acids – some of which are more appropriate for horses than others. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, while Omega-6 fatty acids have pro-inflammatory properties, which can prove problematic for some horses. Roytz surveyed trainers and feed companies to find out how they use oils in their horses' diets.
- Bramlage: ‘Price To Pay' Bisphosphonate Use Is Delayed Healing Bisphosphonates are relatively new to the equine medical world, though they've been used for years to treat osteoporosis in humans. The Food and Drug Administration has approved two bisphosphonates for treatment of navicular syndrome in older horses, but veterinarians have been wary of potential side effects in young horses. Renowned equine surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage was initially concerned the analgesic effect of bisphosphonates, which linger in bone for months after administration, would make it ripe for abuse and potentially lead to a rise in fractures. Bramlage told us he had not seen the rise in fractures he had expected, but instead was seeing cases of stunted healing in horses who had fractures. Bisphosphonates were a topic of discussion at the recent American Association of Equine Practitioners annual convention in San Francisco, where veterinarians discussed their continued efforts at learning more about the drugs' benefits and risks.
- Laminitis Claims Record-Priced The Green Monkey At Age 14 The Green Monkey, who gained fame and international headlines for his $16 million price tag as a 2-year-old, died this year at Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds. The 14-year-old had foundered about 18 months before and was undergoing supportive care until the disease grew too advanced. The Green Monkey became a subject of fascination when he was at the center of a bidding war between Darley and Coolmore at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Calder Select 2-Year-Olds In Training Sale. He was a pinhook, having generated $425,000 as a yearling the previous July. The Green Monkey retired winless. As a sire, he produced 2015 Panamanian filly Triple Crown winner Monkey Business, as well as stakes winners Kinz Funky Monkey and Green Doctor. The death of top sire Giant's Causeway in April also got readers' attention and prompted many to look back on his incredible career. The chestnut, who died at the age of 21 at Coolmore, sired an impressive 31 Grade/Group 1 winners throughout his career. He became the first sire since Danzig to top the General Sires List for three seasons.
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