The Crowd of 86,531 that attended last Saturday's Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course included some animal lovers who were ready to dial the local Humane Society if Summer Squall turned in a bad race. The day before, the colt had bled from the nostrils while grazing, leading to the widespread belief that a grueling spring—the Preakness would be his fifth race in nine weeks—had finally caught up with the little bay. At 950 pounds, Squall was the runt of the nine-horse field that was entered for the second jewel in racing's Triple Crown.
When it was announced that Squall would run in spite of the bleeding, trainer Neil Howard and Cot Campbell, the president of Dogwood Stable, who heads the syndicate that owns the horse, became the most second-guessed men in Baltimore. Yet Howard and Campbell insisted that a race-day dose of Lasix would take care of the bleeding and that Summer Squall's heart, which accounts for about 99.9% of his body weight, would do the rest.
It was a gutty decision—and the correct one. When a hole opened on the rail at the top of the stretch, jockey Pat Day gunned Summer Squall through it and into the lead. Squall then briefly matched strides with Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled before drawing off for a 2¼-length victory over the colt who had beaten him by 3½ lengths at Churchill Downs. The time for the 1[3/16]-mile race was 1:53⅗ equaling the second-fastest Preakness ever, and Summer Squall covered the final[3/16] in 18 seconds, which is flying.
On his way to the winner's circle, Campbell obviously felt both relieved and vindicated. "That bleeding stuff was blown out of proportion," he said. "You saw what happened today. He was magnificent."
Summer Squall was, indeed. But he is also the focal point of a debate that will occupy the racing news over the next few weeks. In almost any other year, the public's disappointment over not getting a Triple Crown winner would be offset by the excitement of a rubber match between Squall and Unbridled in the June 9 Belmont Stakes, in New York. However, Squall won't be there.
The week after the Derby, Campbell announced that Summer Squall would pass on the 1½-mile Belmont, regardless of the outcome of the Preakness. The reason: New York, unlike Kentucky and Maryland, doesn't allow a horse to race on Lasix.
Nobody knows for sure exactly what causes pulmonary bleeding in horses, but everybody in racing realizes that it has become a serious problem, with no easy solution. The lack of uniformity in the Triple Crown medication rules is only one example of the inconsistencies that have damaged the integrity of racing and confused the betting public.
In 1988-89, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine conducted a study of Lasix, commissioned by The Jockey Club, and concluded that the medication enhances the performance of racehorses—just as most trainers and handicappers had long suspected. Over a mile distance, Lasix improved the performance of bleeders by an average of .26 of a second (1.3 lengths) and the performance of nonbleeders by .48 (2.4 lengths). Furthermore, the study concluded that Lasix didn't stop bleeding in 62% of the cases.
When the results of the study were revealed, a few days before this year's Kentucky Derby, they rekindled an industry-wide debate. At one end of the spectrum are the idealists, who believe the only good medication for a racehorse is no medication. At the other end are the realists, who contend that without the use of Lasix and other medications, racetracks wouldn't have enough horses to fill their daily cards.
Campbell said he hadn't read the study, but he had read a summary of it. From his experience, however, he said, "I think Lasix prevents a horse from bleeding. I know it prevented Summer Squall from bleeding. I have no feeling or experience that it makes a horse run faster."
Summer Squall had first bled from the nostrils after a Feb. 19 workout at Gulfstream Park. At the time, the son of Storm Bird, out of the good race mare Weekend Surprise, was beginning a comeback from a hairline fracture of the right foreleg that he had suffered in September. The injury had cut short a brilliant 2-year-old campaign, in which Squall had won all five of his starts.
The bleeding baffled Howard and forced him to rethink his game plan for the Triple Crown. Summer Squall didn't get his first start as a 3-year-old until the March 17 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream, and though he finished a strong second to the sprinter Housebuster, he was at least two weeks behind schedule in his training. Then came Squall's hard-earned victories on muddy tracks in the March 31 Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park and the April 14 Blue Grass at Keeneland. After that race, a relieved Howard said that though the colt had been rushed, he was ready for the Kentucky Derby. What Howard didn't say was that Squall had bled again before the Blue Grass.
Just like Unbridled, Summer Squall bounced back quickly from the Derby. Then last Friday, after a light gallop, he bled again, a slight trickle that lasted three or four minutes.
The unfortunate thing about the Lasix flap is that it detracted from a wonderful day and race. The weather couldn't have been nicer or the crowd at Pimlico more festive. Bettors made Unbridled the 8-5 favorite, with Summer Squall a slight 2-1 favorite over Mister Frisky.
When the starting gate opened, the long shot Fighting Notion went straight to the lead, followed closely by Mister Frisky, who angled over from his post on the far outside. Behind the leaders, Day was content to sit tight on Summer Squall, saving ground on the rail, about four or five lengths off the lead. When Fighting Notion drifted out on the turn for home, Day tried to move up, only to check his colt when the leader came back in. However, when Fighting Notion drifted out again, Day and Squall moved.
After drawing clear of the tiring Fighting Notion, Summer Squall had to contend with Unbridled, who was making his move on the outside. Day obviously had more horse than he had had in the Derby, thanks to a slower early pace and the fact that Squall, who had been distracted by the shrieking crowd in Louisville, remained focused on the competition.
Responding to a few stings of Day's whip, Summer Squall dug in and steadily pulled away. Mister Frisky finished nine lengths behind Unbridled. Summer Squall will now get the summer off before being cranked back up and pointed toward the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 27 at—Belmont Park.
Asked why they would run Squall in New York for the Breeders' Cup and not the Belmont, Campbell and Howard said they felt a vacation would help the colt get over his bleeding problem. Last year he ran his most impressive races in New York without Lasix.
"It would be irresponsible to run him back in three weeks time, at a mile and a half, without Lasix," Campbell said. "I'm elated. To win these races, you've got to bleed a little bit...."
Campbell then paused. "Uh, not literally, but sweat a little bit," he said. "I don't think there's any horse in training today with more heart than Summer Squall."