Cornell Vet School to Operate Former Ruffian Equine Medical Center

by | 12.03.2013 | 9:36pm

Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine has signed a lease-buy agreement with Racebrook Capital Advisors, LLC, for the former Ruffian Equine Medical Center to establish Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists, a referral and emergency care hospital.

The hospital, located near the Belmont Racetrack backstretch in Elmont, N.Y., is expected to open April 1, 2014, and will provide elective equine specialty services to horses referred by their attending veterinarians. Full emergency and critical care services will be offered by the Spring of 2015.

Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists will partner with referring veterinarians to meet the needs of New York State racing and the surrounding sport horse communities.

The 22,000 square-foot facility will provide state-of-the-art surgical, imaging, diagnostic and rehabilitation services to enhance equine health. Dr. Alan Nixon, a renowned equine orthopedic surgeon and director of the Cornell's Comparative Orthopedics Laboratory, will serve as the Chief Medical Officer of Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists. Drs. Lisa Fortier and Norm Ducharme, pioneers in regenerative and laryngeal procedures, will also offer advanced surgical procedures. The hospital will be staffed by Cornell University veterinarians and technicians and will offer a full complement of advanced orthopedic and soft tissue surgery and regenerative therapies, an internal medicine service, and a broad array of diagnostic modalities including advanced imaging such as MRI, CT, nuclear scintigraphy, high speed treadmill endoscopy, arthroscopy and laboratory services.

“We are looking forward to joining the well-established horseracing and sport horse communities in the area, adding value to veterinarians, trainers and owners in the region and supporting the critical equine industry in the State of New York,” said Dr. Michael I. Kotlikoff, Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine. “The hospital will be within walking distance of Belmont Park, recognized as one of the world's premiere Thoroughbred horseracing facilities, and is easily accessible to the many sport horse enthusiasts located in and around the area. Our goals are to improve the health and safety of the equine athlete and by so doing to strengthen one of the world's premiere racing programs.”

“This is an exciting initiative for Cornell,” said Nixon. “Through the establishment of Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists, Cornell will honor Ruffian's legacy. She established herself as one of the greatest racehorses to set foot on the track and is known as the perfect champion and a courageous filly. The new center will continue the sense of inspiration and achievement surrounding Ruffian, and we are eager to partner with the referring veterinarians to do so. We have multiple goals for our new hospital, all of which are patient-centered, client-responsive, and community-minded.”

For more information about Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists and the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell, visit:

  • cheri

    Wonderful news. This is an excellent idea. Hopefully, other tracks will do the same…

  • NY Owner

    This is great news. That facility has been idle for too long!

  • RoadApple

    Cornell is a highly respected, excellent facility. Belmont is outstanding among tracks. A win-win situation for all that can make use of a wasted opportunity in the past. A good day for horses and their people.

  • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

    Delighted to finally see this happening…as it will be a huge bonus to the horse industry. Having this hospital will save so many equine lives as now horses will not have to travel long distances for colic care or more in depth surgical procedures. As someone who volunteered for years with the late Dr. William Reed (one of Ruffians Surgeons) before becoming a vet I am also so relieved to see the site of his former hospital not having been destroyed in vain and for no purpose.

    • HHH

      Referring to the matchrace where Ruffian shattered her sesamoids,by all accounts Ruffian was hemorrhaging terribly , badly dehydrated & slipping deeply into pain shock by the time they moved her from the track to her stall.Half a dozen famous vets were assisting Ruffians primary vet Dr.Pendergast as he began a series of injections on the left side of her neck and lowered her injured leg in a bucket of ice water.Nack states she soon seemed to settle as the drugs took hold.Because she finally settled Pendergast left to get his X-ray machine out of his truck & Whitely & the others stepped out briefly to discuss her treatment.Nack states and I quote” and then something happened that would haunt me for years : fast & hard from my left, through the door of the shed , swept a pug nosed veterinarian named Wm. O Reed, whose equine hospital was directly across the road.Reed had the plastic tip of a hyper dermis needle between his teeth & he ducked into Ruffians stall & stuck the needle in the Right side of her neck.He emptied the syringe. I looked to my left & right and saw that no one had seen him & I began wondering whether Pendergast knew what Reed had given her & wondering who was running this madhouse”. Nack goes on to say that shortly after Reed walked away Ruffian became crazed , rearing & lashing out, throwing herself against the wall trying to heave herself to the ground.While everyone rushed in to her stall frantically trying to control her Pendergast noticed the blood running from her left side of her neck & became uncharacteristically angry demanding to know who injected her & with what? Because of her violent state, thought to be a drug reaction, they were forced to start surgery on her before they could stabilize her. Finally the question I have long needed a answer to is what did Dr.Reed inject into her, especially without permission or even notifying anyone what it was? PS also this is out of Nacks book “Ruffian, a Racetrack Romance” and might help Mr. Cassidy to know who this story came from.

  • betterthannothing


  • 4Bellwether666

    Just Beautiful…

  • Marshall Cassidy

    Three cheers to Cornell! Assuming all financial, legal, county and town details have been resolved, and the former Ruffian Equine Medical Center can be made whole again by April 1, our Thoroughbreds’ physical health will surely be enhanced as never before. What great news!

    As one of those in attendance with doctors Gilman, Prendergast and Reed that awful July night following Ruffian’s tragic accident, I feel a personal relief upon reading this wonderful news.

    • Mary Jo

      Since you were in attendance July 6 – 7, 1975, I must know – did Jane Schwartz get it right in her book “Ruffian, Burning From the Start” as far as describing what happened after Ruffian’s breakdown? Also, what medication did Dr Reed give her that made her go crazy and why did he do it???

      • Marshall Cassidy

        Hi, Mary Jo,

        Yes, I was in the operating room and able to see into the recovery room after the work had been completed. In those days I had almost carte blanche access wherever I wanted to go as both an employee of NYRA and as a personal friend of Dr. Gilman, so I headed to Dr. Reed’s place as soon as I completed my radio feed of The Great Race.

        By chance I arrived at about the same time Ruffian arrived and stood by in case I could add a hand while she was maneuvered to the operating table. Soon she was down on her left side, needles were stuck in her neck and Dr. Gilman asked for a hand with the catheter — so I stepped up to the filly’s rear end and held it in place while the surgeons did their thing.

        I don’t know what Jane Shwartz wrote about that night’s activities, so I can’t comment per se, but I can comment about what I saw as a layman and heard with my ears. As to Dr. Reed’s administration of something that “made (Ruffian) go crazy, I was told by Dr. Reed that her “paddling” was a normal behavior for a horse coming out of anesthesia — a horse that had just competed in a race — it was a terrible thing to happen to this filly at this time because she was destroying all the work done by Drs Reed, Prendergast and Gilman of the previous eight hours surgery. Ruffian was literally running on her side while still unconscious, her hind hooves striking the fresh plaster cast on Ruffian’s right ankle. It is my opinion no doctor gave Ruffian anything that would cause her to “paddle.”

        • Mary Jo

          In the book (starting pg 300) Dr Prendergast leaves the room (pre-surg) to get equipment, comes back to find her “going berzerk”. When he noticed blood dripping from a needle puncture on the right side of her neck (he had given meds on the L side) he demanded to know who gave her a shot and was told Dr Reed had given it. It was believed that the drug Dr Reed gave had an untoward effect on her since her behavior changed after that shot. They had her calmed down prior to that shot. No one has ever said what Reed gave her. Sounds like everyone was in panic mode and there was no one directing care. They were trying to save a horse that, under any other circumstance, would have been put down on the track in those days. I realize the “paddling” was post-op. I am surprised you have not read Jane Schwartz’s very well written book on Ruffian.

          • Marshall Cassidy

            You write with such authority I am left to surmise you must have been there, yourself. However, I don’t remember seeing you. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t introduced to any woman, including Jane Schwartz, and I don’t remember seeing any women within that building that night — despite the overwrought television show that aired a few years ago, and probably depicted women in nurse’s outfits and flowing blood for emotional effect.

            David and Frank Whiteley were there sitting on the floor, Frank standing every so often to go and make a phone call; Blue Rapelyea was there after having driven the horse ambulance over from the track, and he waited with me in case he could help; the doctors were there, of course. But I don’t remember seeing any women at all.

            As to Jane Schwartz and her book on the Ruffian story, I did meet her and offered to help her by proofreading if she wished; Ms. Schwartz declined my offer and eventually gave me a complimentary copy as a gift. As I recall, I read enough of the opening passages to think she was a good writer, but went no further for one reason or another — mostly because I’d been there and didn’t need reminding of how emotional were my experiences.

            If your energized and detailed accounts are based upon Ms. Schwartz’s book, perhaps her book would have benefited by my proofreading, if for no better reason than to weed out unrealistic drama that did not take place. If your quotations stem from watching the television program, well, what can I say?

            In fact: (1) Ruffian never went “berzerk” at any time that night, and certainly did not go “berzerk” prior to the conclusion of surgery. (2) That Dr. Reed may have administered medications intravenously is beyond my knowledge, however vocalized objection by Dr. Prendergast is not, and there was no such verbal altercation. (3) Not one person was in “panic mode” that night, including the doctors. During the awful paddling Dr. Prendergast sat on her head to try to reduce her leverage, I believe, and stood quickly when it became apparent to him nothing could prevent Ruffian from destroying herself by destroying her fashioned-metal and plaster cast.

            Mary Jo, I think you have devoted too much confidence in the accuracy of Ms. Schwartz’s descriptions if you are, in fact, quoting passages from her book.

          • Mary Jo

            I wish you had read the book. I’m sure Ms. Schwartz would have appreciated your first hand account. I was not there. I was living in Miami and had seen the “Match race”. I did get my account from JS’s book. (I did see the TV movie, but was not impressed. Jane Schwartz hated the movie) I am always interested in what people’s perceptions are and what you have shared is very interesting and I thank you for it. I can understand why you would not want to read any book about that time and relive that night. It took me decades before I could read anything about Ruffian or watch any horse races, for that matter. Anyway, I have taken so much of your time and again, I thank you.

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