The injury sustained by Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes bid is a very common racetrack injury, and one that typically does not aversely affect a racehorse’s future career, says Dr. Raul Bras, DVM, CJF of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital.
The laceration, which can occur when a horse grabs his own heels while exiting the starting gate, is very painful to a horse, says Dr. Bras, who notes that it’s impossible to say at this point whether such an injury would have affected the 4-1 favorite in his quest to win the Triple Crown.
“Is it painful? Yes, it’s very painful,” Dr. Bras says. “But I’m pretty sure that during the race, the adrenalin is pumping, so whether it affected him or whether the adrenalin affected (his pain response) is something we can’t know.”
The key right now in Chrome’s recovery is to prevent a secondary superficial bacterial infection from developing, or any other infection, says Dr. Bras, offering his professional opinion on how Chrome’s veterinarian team will likely approach the great horse’s care.
Dr. Bras is not part of Chrome’s team. However, he notes that he and other equine hoof-health experts are as concerned about Chrome’s progress as the the fans who took to social media channels after the Belmont Stakes and offered opinions about the hoof condition.
Dr. Bras, who is among a handful of veterinarians in the United States to earn a Journeyman Farrier certification from the American Farrier Association, and is also a graduate of the Cornell University Farrier School, differs with opinions being expressed that Chrome’s injury is “like peeling off a fingernail.”
This is incorrect, he says. “The analogy of losing a fingernail is like saying the horse lost the entire hoof capsule, not just a small part of it, like Chrome did. It’s more accurate to say that Chrome’s injury is like having a cut over the cuticle that could involve part of the nail bed,” Dr. Bras says.
He further explains that doctors will need to determine just how serious it is by determining how deep the cut went, and whether or not it affected the hoof wall or the coronary band. In the days ahead, he surmises that Chrome’s team will closely monitor the tissue of the foot, looking for color changes and other indicators of infection. They will also seek to determine whether the injury was limited to the heel bulb area or whether it impacted the coronary band. Another key question will be whether surgery should be performed, he adds.
Having treated many racetrack-related injuries related to “hoof grabs,” he says the hardest call is determining whether surgical intervention is necessary, he says. “That’s the tricky part,” he says. “I have to think about whether I have good attachment (of the skin flap) to the coronary band, and then determine whether I want to disturb it” through surgery.
His protocol for such injuries is to begin a regimen of foot soaking and topical treatments of antiseptic, and continuous monitoring.
Some veterinarians might also begin treating with broad-spectrum antibiotics, he adds.
In most cases he has treated, horses will experience pain on the foot for several days up to two weeks. But the good news is that it is an injury with a good prognosis, he says.
“Will this jeopardize (Chrome’s) racing career? I don’t think so. I think he will just heal from this, and the area will regrow,” Dr. Bras says.