Book Excerpts

What they're saying about BACKYARD RACEHORSE:

"The racehorse probably regards the racetrack as a nice place to visit, but confinement to a tiny stall for 23 hours a day is no way to live. Janet Del Castillo shows owners and trainers how to school, train and condition racers properly and economically at home. Horse lovers will appreciate this book." -

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Tom Ainslie, International Turf Writer

"...J. Del Castillo is dedicated to a better way of life for racehorses through more natural training methods. The beauty of it is that she has done all of these things successfully. Every owner and trainer can benefit from this book." -

A.C. Asbury, DVM, Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, and Coordinator, University of Florida Equine Programs

"As a lifelong participant in horseracing as a trainer, owner, turf writer and racing official, I regard BACKYARD RACEHORSE outstanding. Her genuine love of horses and her ability to pass knowledge gained the hard way, through her own triumphs and disasters make this book enjoyable and informative. I highly recommend it..." -

Scott Wells, Hollywood Park

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MEDICATIONS AT THE RACETRACK

Introduction

My opinions here may cause me some trouble. Perhaps this section should be called "Ethics in Racing: Medications - When to use. When not to use." I must share a little background information with you here. My father worked for the Federal Government, the Bureau of Narcotics while I was growing up in San Francisco. The "evil" of drugs was indoctrinated in me at a very young age. Perhaps the early training has made me more reactionary than most when certain options are offered to get a few more races out of a horse.

I am constantly interested in the cause and effect of whatever is being done to the animals. I was married to a physician for 18 years and have great respect for the tremendous benefits science and medicine have provided for us.

The problem in racing is the attempt to "fool Mother Nature," when often rest and time off from the pounding and speed will alleviate a problem before it becomes chronic or irreversible.

At the track, the trainer is reluctant to stop a horse for a slight problem close to racing time. So he asks the vet for something to "help" the horse get through the race. "You know Doc, he's been training so good. Our race is next Tuesday and now he has this heat in his tendon." Red Alert! Now is not the time to stress that tendon by running the horse.

Many trainers don't or can't stop at this point. There is tremendous pressure from the owner who doesn't want another darn excuse. The owner may even insinuate he will look for another trainer. The trainer, in desperation, looks for a quick fix which unfortunately may "fix" the horse for the rest of his career. The horse runs with chemical help and strong bandages, and bows a tendon. Now he is compromised for life. The trainer shakes his head and tells the owner "What a shame. He was doing just fine until that misstep on the track. Just bad luck... but hey, there's another sale coming up and we'll throw this horse out for a year and see how he does next year." This scenario is simplistic, but such skits are being played all too frequently at the track.

In similar situations, I have felt pushed into a corner. What to do? Use chemical help for a few more races to indulge an owner, or lose the owner and watch the horse run well a few more races with another trainer. Afterwards, the horse is never seen again since you can only "go to the well" so many times.

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HORSES DON'T HAVE TO LIVE AT THE TRACK TO BE ABLE TO COMPETE

The following story is typical of the problems trainers have. At the end of a meet at Tampa, my friend told me he had a three-year-old filly he was sending to the killers unless he could find someone who wanted her. She had won a few races and was very game. "She's got a knee," he said, without elaboration. I knew better than to ask if cortisone had been injected in her knee, or how often she was injected until he couldn't get anything more out of her. I looked at her and she had powerful hind quarters and was a muscular horse. Her knee looked "rough" but not puffy and full of fluid, though it was hot to touch. (Cortisone can eliminate heat and swelling, leaving the horse to think his joint is healthy even when it isn't.) I agreed to pay $250 for her and decided to throw her out to pasture for the summer and see how she was in the fall.

Since she was running at $3,500 claiming races when she was right, she was certainly not worth spending any money on, even for x-rays. Surgery wasn't feasible, because she probably had joint deterioration at this point.

It wouldn't cost too much to carry her. If she wasn't lame next season, I'd try galloping her. I loaded her and took her home.

A friend from the racetrack heard about my purchase and asked to buy half of her for $125 and agreed to help pay her upkeep. This was fine with me. Trainers become horse poor very quickly. It was great to have someone to help pay for feed.

In the fall, she started training (my third and fourth day ride) and she tuned right up. She showed nervousness in the gates and had to be hauled back many times since she was left at the gate a few times.

She would become slightly lame out of the race, walk out of it, and be ready eight or ten days later. She was given Bute before the race but that was the extent of her medication. She had been on the Bleeder's List, but I took her off as no signs of bleeding appeared and the Lasix seemed to do more harm than help. After an injection of Lasix, she would break into a sweat, have runny diarrhea and start urinating. She was running with a hard-knocking gang of fillies and mares and did run viably in most of her races, once we solved the gate problem. To our great joy and astonishment she won a very game race where she was left last out of 12 horses. She put in a tremendous stretch run and won by a nose. What joy!

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Her next race was a lackluster performance. The jockey got off, and said "You know, she's not pushing off her left leg the way she used to. I think her knee is starting to bother her again." In view of that, I turned to my partner and said "it's time to give her away." "Wait a minute," he said. "You know there are ways to keep her going." Enter the horns of dilemma. The money would be useful. By injecting the knee with cortisone, the mare would feel no pain and could continue running with the illusion of a sound joint. I knew we could get a few more races out of her before the ultimate breakdown. Just thinking about this, my own knees and ankles started to hurt. As close as I have been to financial ruin, I have not been able to condemn a horse to this kind of finish. I realized, in this case, the decision was not mine alone to make. My partner accused me of being naive. Ridiculous, since I was as well aware as anyone in the various ways to keep the horse running. Unfortunately, I was also aware of the consequences of those methods. I said, "Listen, if you want, I'll give you my half of the horse. Take her to another trainer, camouflage the pain and have her run full speed with the compromised knee."

"Are you willing to be responsible for the injury that might result to a jockey, or the damage to the horse?" I asked. "If that's what you want, my half is yours. I can't even sell her the way she is. My choice would be to give her to a good home."

He looked at me. This was heresy. Something not too many smart trainers would admit is thatwhat you do today can cause breakdown tomorrow.

This is never presented as a cause and effect situation to owners. It is difficult for trainers to inform an owner that the horse could be incapacitated by trying to get a few more races. But, that is exactly what happens. Some trainers cleverly wash their hands of the responsibility. They just say they will "help" the horse feel better. The vet does his part by indulging the trainer and doing what the trainer wants. The vet might caution the trainer that when certain drugs are given, the horse should rest. The reality could be if the medication can't be traced and the horse can move, he will run. This is a great way for everyone involved to avoid responsibility when the inevitable happens. They can all commiserate about the bad luck - "the misstep."

Back to the filly and my predicament. My partner got my message and agreed to give the horse away. She is now herding cattle in Central Florida.

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I will not train a horse that I know is is pain. Nor will I train a horse that is unaware of the pain he has. If the owner feels otherwise, the horse goes to another trainer.

janet.delcastillo@gmail.com

Janet delcastillo 2013