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The Breaking Point

Nov. 01, 1993
Nov. 01, 1993

Table of Contents
Nov. 1, 1993

Table of Contents
Motor Sports
Horse Racing
Bicycling
Business
The World Series
NFL Injuries
Felix Potvin
Jim Pyne
On The Scene
Basketball
Point After
  • Susan Willmot was an owner of Play the King, a 6-year-old gelding who broke down at Pimlico in 1989 and was destroyed by lethal injection. When SI sought Willmot's permission to use photographs of the breakdown for our story on racing injuries, she responded with this letter

The Breaking Point

A rising toll of racetrack breakdowns has shaken public confidence and put the thoroughbred industry at a crossroads

On this early Sunday afternoon, along a narrow path of dirt over which Man o' War and Secretariat had once swept in flight to historic victories in the Preakness Stakes, a dainty chestnut filly named So Sly stood frozen in her final autumn light, nervously balancing herself on three legs.

This is an article from the Nov. 1, 1993 issue

Her 20-year-old groom, Mike Murphy, looked at her for a moment and averted his eyes, his face ashen. He had just run the 700 yards from where he'd been watching the race, in front of the Pimlico grandstand, and he was still carrying the halter and the lead shank with which he had led her to the races that day.

"Oh, jeez," he said.

Murphy knew what had to be done. The distal end of the filly's cannon bone in her left foreleg, just above the ankle, had snapped in half, and the shaft of it was white and bare and jutting, like a peg leg, from a thin brown stocking of skin. Below it the hoof and the lower pastern and ankle bones hung loosely on the ground, tethered to the leg by a single swath of hide and ligament. It was 1:38 p.m. on Oct. 3, and only the bleeding had stopped. Now a fate and a world not of the filly's making was closing in around her—the horse ambulance waiting there to take her away, the pinched expressions of the groom and the pony girl, and the track veterinarian moving toward her with his needles. Five minutes earlier, in the second race at Pimlico, a 1[1/16]-mile claiming event for cheap fillies and mares worth $8,000-$8,500, So Sly and jockey Frank Douglas were racing sixth in a field of nine, moving three wide as they charged around the far turn. Russian Vixon was running right next to her when suddenly Freddy Castillo, Russian Vixon's jockey, heard the sound that riders have come to know and fear as no other.

"The crack of a baseball off a wooden bat," as Castillo puts it.

Half-ton racehorses, traveling at 36 miles per hour, strike the ground with splintering force, exerting a 12,000-pound load on the cannon bone alone, and in that instant, on this day, the one in So Sly's left leg blew violently apart. The scene that followed looked like something out of Pickett's Charge. Caving left, So Sly pitched Douglas forward, in somersaults, and on her way down she chop-blocked Russian Vixon, sending her sprawling. Castillo tumbled into the dirt. "She snapped her leg off," Castillo says. "It all happened so quick."

Falling left, Russian Vixon slammed into the horse on the rail, Kels Clever Choice, who crashed to the earth and catapulted her jockey, Joe Rocco, through the air. Rocco had taken a terrible spill two weeks before when a horse had broken down beneath him on the turf course and a passing horse had kicked him in the head. Now as he lay on the dirt he was thinking, Not again. For an instant there were bodies everywhere. And barely had the other horses hit the wire when one of the oldest and most poignant of racetrack rituals began to be played out near the ‚Öú pole.

None of the jockeys was seriously hurt. The two inside horses scrambled to their feet and bounded away. Then there was So Sly. She managed to get up but went down, then rose and hobbled in circles, leg dangling, until the pony girl and the ambulance rushed to her side. Jamie Richardson, an ambulance worker, took the reins of her bridle in his left hand and pushed gently against the horse's neck, trying to steady her on three legs. "Whoa now," Richardson said. "Whoa...."

Murphy stepped forward and kissed her on the nose. The filly dropped her head. Then Murphy turned and walked up the racetrack, holding the halter and shank. He did not want to sec what was coming now. Nothing at a racetrack stirs chaos and confusion like a loose, catastrophically injured horse—they are often in a state of panic—and by the time Dr. David Zipf, the track veterinarian, arrived on the scene, Richardson had spent several anxious minutes trying to keep the filly steady and calm. As Zipf climbed from his car, Richardson yelled, "You got a radio? I've been standing here with her like this for five minutes!"

"They were saying all the horses were up and running around," Zipf said. "I don't know...."

The vet was bearing large hypodermic syringes—one with 100cc's of a purple solution, a potent barbiturate to euthanize her, and one with barbiturate mixed with succinylcholine, a drug that would force her to the ground while the barbiturate did its work. "Get the tarp up over here," a voice yelled. Two men, standing behind the rail, raised a turquoise screen to block the view of distant spectators and so protect them from their feelings. "Come on, hold her here," Zipf said to Richardson.

So Sly stood facing the turn for home, her eyes wide and her ears working, as Zipf moved to her left side. Twenty yards down the racetrack Murphy was leaning with his back against the fence, his head down. Zipf emptied the syringes into the jugular. So Sly collapsed almost at once on her left side and died moments later in the sun. Murphy did not stay to watch the rest. He took her bridle and turned to leave. "You work with them seven days a week, and then this happens," he said. "I don't know...." The ambulance was backed to where So Sly was lying. The third race was only 20 minutes away, and she had to be removed so the show could go on. They wrapped a length of wire cable three times around her neck—"All right, take it in!" someone shouted—and then dragged her aboard with a winch. And hauled her away.

There is much uncertainty about why so many racehorses end up dead on American tracks every year; but the figures are appalling and unacceptable by any humane standard. In a paper she will present this December to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, researcher Julie Wilson of the University of Minnesota will show for the first time just how bad the numbers are. In 1992, Wilson has found, 840 horses suffered fatal racing breakdowns on American tracks. That is one fatality for every 92 races, or more than one percent. And that does not reflect the number of horses fatally injured in morning workouts. "I think more horses break down in the morning than in the afternoon," says New York trainer Howard Tesher. Wilson's figures also show that a far larger number—3,566 horses—broke down so severely last year that they could not finish the races in which they were hurt. That is one in every 22 races.

"That's way too many," says Dr. Gregory L. Ferraro, a widely respected veterinary surgeon who, disillusioned with what he calls the "rampant" use of drugs on the backstretch, walked away three years ago from perhaps the most lucrative private practice at Southern California tracks, which are among the most prosperous in the world. He sees a strong connection between drug use and breakdowns, and Ferraro does not mean only illegal medications, which veterinarians are under increasing pressure to use, but also the widespread use of legal corticosteroids, as well as the two most prominent legitimate drugs: the diuretic Lasix, which supposedly suppresses bleeding from the lungs, and phenylbutazone, or "bute," an analgesic that reduces inflammation in the joints.

"I stood up for the horsemen the first time 60 Minutes came around," Ferraro says of a segment that aired on the news program more than a decade ago. "I said, 'Don't take the bute away. Don't take the Lasix away.' And now I feel I was wrong, because I see what's happened 15 years later. It led us down the wrong path. Ii opened the gate. One little step at a time, it takes you out there. Somewhere you've got to draw the line, and the easiest place to draw the line and protect the horse is to say, 'None.' It's not like a guy who's playing football, who has the option to say, 'You can inject that if you want, but I'm not goin' out there. I'm not gonna take the risk.' Those horses don't have that option."

In a 1992 article in The North American Review entitled "The Corruption of Nobility: The Rise & Fall of Thoroughbred Racing in America," Ferraro penned a stinging rebuke against drug abuse on the backstretch, saying, "In general, treatments designed to repair a horse's injuries and to alleviate its suffering are now often used to get the animal out onto the track to compete—to force the animal, like some punch-drunk fighter, to make just one more round. Equine veterinary medicine has been misdirected from the art of healing to the craft of portfolio management, and the business of horse racing is in the process of killing its goose with the golden eggs."

There is no grander and gaudier goose than the annual Breeders' Cup; and a week from Saturday at Santa Anita Park, when the finest equine athletes in the game do battle in seven races for $10 million in purses, thousands of racing's patrons and habituès will be engaged in hand-wringing unprecedented in the sport's long history. Its economic woes aside, the horse racing industry has reached a critical state in regard to public confidence—that is, among the millions who watch it more for pleasure than for profit—and it has reached that point over the last few years because of the near carnage that has been taking place during some of the game's most celebrated events, most notably in the nationally televised Breeders' Cup itself and the Triple Crown. But the breakdown and death of So Sly at Pimlico a month ago is far more typical than Union City's more widely publicized crippling and ensuing destruction in the Preakness last spring. Aside from the emotional connections of Murphy and a few others, So Sly was just another largely anonymous horse who broke a bone in just another race on yet another forgettable card. The regularity of such events has benumbed even those whose lives are most at risk—the jockeys.

"It's happened so many times to me, I can't keep track of it," said jockey Douglas after So Sly's fall. "It's the name of the game. Nothing we can do about it."

But the nonchalant shrug will no longer suffice. If Secretariat's spectacular triumph in the 1973 Belmont Stakes took the sport to a new level of popularity, the breakdown and death of Ruffian two years later did more to besmirch racing than anything that had ever happened in the game. Racehorses had been breaking down for centuries, but never before in an event so widely seen as the great match race between Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure at Belmont Park. And never a horse with so vast and passionate a following as the flying black filly who had never been headed and had never known defeat. Even today the images in black and white swim powerfully through memory: of Ruffian battling the colt head-and-head as they sailed down the backstretch, of the pigeon flying up in front of her, of Ruffian hobbling horribly and limping to a stop, and then Manny Gilman, the track veterinarian, fitting the shattered ankle with an inflatable cast and rising and walking away, both hands bloody.

For many who turned off their TV sets that day, thoroughbred racing has had blood on its hands ever since. And in the last three years, of course, the situation has gotten worse. In a sense the shocking breakdown of Go for Wand in the 1990 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Belmont, as she and Bayakoa went hammer and tongs 100 yards from the wire, poisoned the well even more deeply than Ruffian's demise, since Go for Wand went down deep in the stretch, in full view of everyone, and then tried to stand on a foot that flapped around grotesquely as she bounded in a panic in front of the horrified crowds that filled the grandstand.

This was no isolated occurrence in the Breeders' Cup. Since the event's inaugural running in 1984, there has been an injury, breakdown or fatality in virtually every Cup renewal. Last year Mr Brooks broke down turning for home in the Breeders" Cup Sprint, dashing English riding legend Lester Piggott into the upper stretch; and while Piggott survived, with minor injuries, the horse had to be destroyed. And this spring, with the sport increasingly under attack from animal rights groups, Union City never even made it to the far turn at Pimlico, again focusing public attention on the issue of death on the racetrack. And no sooner had that unseemly mess subsided than Prairie Bayou, the Preakness winner himself, was galloping quietly down the backstretch in the Belmont Stakes when he broke down so completely that his left foreleg was a ruin—a broken cannon bone, a ruptured suspensory ligament and fractured sesamoid in his ankle, and a pastern bone so devastated, as an autopsy would reveal, that it looked like a building shattered by an earthquake.

All levels of the racing business—breeders, owners, trainers and, particularly, veterinarians and equine scientists—are still feeling the aftershocks of Prairie Bayou's death. The fatality caused a huge public outcry, and the results of the horse's autopsy promise to put racing further on the defensive and give new leverage to those convinced that drugs are destroying the game (box, page 82). The little gelding's death has focused debate more than ever on the causes of racetrack breakdowns and on what, if anything, can be done to prevent them. And on how to treat them once they do occur, short of emptying the syringe into the jugular.

"It is urgent," says breeder Arthur Hancock III, who raised two Kentucky Derby winners, Gato Del Sol and Sunday Silence. "When you see Lester Piggott, one of the world's greatest jockeys, going down in the Breeders' Cup and lying there motionless, it puts the fear of God into you. We can't stand too much of that anymore. You get to the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. No pun intended."

No one can say with precision why so many horses break down on the racetrack. The reasons advanced range from improper shoeing to undetected stress fractures, from the proverbial "bad step" to the escalating use of painkillers. And there are those who strongly suggest that horses are being inbred too closely or raised too softly. In any case there is one point on which many horsemen do agree: The American thoroughbred is not as tough and sturdy as he used to be. He's a far more fragile animal than the raw-boned beasts of yore. Consider such old-fashioned stars as the 1918 Kentucky Derby winner, Exterminator, who won 50 of 100 races; or Discovery, who won 27 of 63 and carried as much as 143 pounds; or Citation, who won 19 of 20 races in 1948, tossing in the Triple Crown along the way.

There have been modern-day exceptions, of course, including the great geldings Forego (won 34 of 57 starts) and John Henry (won 39 of 83 starts), but they were athletes rare among their pampered peers. Young horsemen like trainer Shug McGaughey (whose five stakes wins at Belmont Park on Oct. 16 represent the most notable training feat of the decade) look upon the records of past thoroughbreds with something close to awe. "I've read in books about the training schedules of horses who ran from the 1930s through the middle of the 1960s, and there is no way these horses today could take that," McGaughey says. "I mean, running them in the Derby Trial at a mile on Tuesday, blowing 'em out a mile two days later, on Thursday, and then running 'em back in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday! Those long, hard mile works they used to do, most of the horses couldn't take that today—not only physically but mentally, too. With them being more inbred, we've weakened the race, and the more fragile they're gonna be."

One of the most remarkable changes that has occurred in racing over the last 30 years, outside the advent of the use of corticosteroids, is the rise of the commercial yearling market and the breeding of horses solely for the marketplace. Back in the old days, when the Whitneys and the Guggenheims and the Vanderbilts ruled the game, they looked beyond mere pedigree in breeding horses and actively sought to produce the soundest as well as the fastest horse, mating stallions to marcs with the view toward canceling out each other's physical defects. As these families' influence diminished from racing, the commercial breeders bought their mares and took to breeding them not for stoutness nor soundness but for how the mating looked on paper. Hall of Fame trainer John Nerud says that the game today is suffering the consequences of this vast myopia. "They didn't pay attention to the soundness of horses," Nerud says. "And why should they? They didn't breed to race. They bred for the sales catalog, hoping they would interest the Europeans and Arabs for a $13 million price."

On top of that, says trainer P.G. Johnson, the many horses raised for the sales ring are far softer than those raised by the breeder to race. Those who bred their horses to run would turn out their yearling herds in great fields and, from the time they were weaned until they were broken under tack, the young horses would spend months fighting and playing and bloodying each other's noses. "The horses got tough," Johnson says. "Tough and competitive. They roughhoused it. When we started to get more horses sold at yearling sales, they got softer. In April the sales breeder takes them out of the fields and separates the colts in individual pens. There's a softening that goes on. They don't want them coming into the sales ring all scratched and cut up from running loose and kicking each other. They want them to look like show horses. They want them fatter. And they just aren't as tough. We're not breeding a softer horse, but we're raising one."

And, in many cases, sending them out on the track with dangerous infirmities masked by narcotics and painkillers. "I've been on the racetrack since 1972, and I think drug abuse on the backside is more rampant than it ever was," says Ferraro, the California vet. "With the Ruffian breakdown in 75, the sympathies generated within the industry gave an immediate impetus to protecting horses from breakdowns. From 1976 through 1986 we came a long way. People were making an effort to protect horses, like building the hospitals at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park." And then the recession struck, along with the tax-law changes that removed horses from the roster of depreciable assets, and money grew as tight as the blue jeans on the backstretch. The biggest money-earner of all at the track, the noble running horse, became the asset most expendable—another piece of inventory to be turned over and over in the increasingly furious human scramble to survive.

"From 1989 to the present, it has gotten worse," says Ferraro, whose racetrack practice is now limited to surgery and treating the sick. "This isn't going to make me very popular, but racing should be held accountable for this. I had the biggest practice and the best stables. I could see what was happening and where it was going, and I said, 'I'm getting out. I've had enough.' It makes me sick.... There's a lot of pressure involved. The horse owner is pressing the trainer to win at any cost. The trainer's trying to do everything he can. The veterinarian's the only one who has the knowledge, and should have the judgment, to say, 'This is enough. Don't go any further. We're crossing the line with this animal.' He's got to have enough gumption to stand up and say, 'No!' But they don't. They're under economic pressure themselves.... You've got people who have one or two horses, more than they can afford, and you have owners coming up with the drugs themselves and saying, 'Hey, my physician told me about this. You should try this.' The problem is now, for every guy [veterinarian] that stands up and says no, there's three other guys that'll say, 'I'll do it for ya.' I feel sorry for the young vet that comes on now, because he's almost obligated to cheat if he wants to earn a living. I don't see how he can withstand the pressure."

After 21 years of experience working the Southern California racetracks, Ferraro sees an unmistakable link between many catastrophic breakdowns and the abuse of drugs. Asked how many were related to the masking of pain with drugs, legally or otherwise, Ferraro said, "More than half."

Much of the pervasive drug use at the racetrack is officially condoned. Only New York, among all the nation's racing jurisdictions, forbids the use of bute or Lasix on horses while racing. Elsewhere, these medications are so routinely administered that the official program published at many tracks is required to list which horses are running with the aid of which medication.

In this atmosphere in which sanctioned drug use has become the norm, perhaps the most abused drugs of all are the corticosteroids, which kill pain by reducing inflammation in the joints (bute, by contrast, is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory). Serial injections can seriously weaken the soft tissue in the joints of an actively campaigning horse. Ferraro estimates that close to 70% of racehorses have, at some point in their careers, been "tapped," as these steroidal injections are called on the backstretch. "Pharmacologists will tell you that corticosteroids are not damaging to the joint if they're given with rest," he says. "But when you give them with exercise, when you give them and then compete, they are deleterious. The other thing about cortisone is that with multiple use, its good effects tend to decrease and its bad effects tend to increase. It's the multiple injections that really nail you. It's like diminishing returns—more is not better with cortisone."

New York trainer John Veitch agrees that economic conditions have forced horsemen to rely on such painkillers to keep unsound horses competing. As the backstretch economy has deteriorated, so have horses' joints. "Corticosteroids are very prominent," says Veitch. "I'm sure they have contributed to some of the catastrophic breakdowns that we've seen. The horse is compromised."

This is particularly so, says Ferraro, among the armies of cheaper horses who make up the bulk of the racing population. "Obviously, with the horse in the upper class, trainers and vets are using it sparingly," he says. "Those horses that are running every week for a ham sandwich, a lot of them get popped every time they go." A classic abuse of the drug, Ferraro says, occurs with the trainer of a cheap claimer suffering from an inflamed tendon. The trainer wants to get rid of the horse, but knows no one will claim him if he shows up in the paddock with the telltale bulge in his lower leg. So the trainer snuggles up to the vet, asking him to inject a tad of the elixir to reduce the swelling.

"So the cortisone gets injected," says Ferraro. "The guy puts the horse in the race, some other guy claims him, and the horse pulls up at the half-mile pole with a ruptured tendon. Perfect example of what goes on. Nobody's the wiser. Too many horses are being trained by veterinarians and not by trainers."

In the search for ways to prevent catastrophic injuries, nothing has buoyed the industry's scientists more than the mammoth, open-ended research project in California that has gathered revealing data from the autopsies performed on every horse that has died at the state's five thoroughbred tracks over the last four years (nearly 900 so far). The California Necropsy Project at the University of California, Davis, has involved an unlikely amalgam of politicos, professors, veterinarians and trainers looking for the causes of crippling injuries on the racetrack. Budgeted at $500,000 a year, with most of the money taken out of the state's simulcast handle, it represents the first concerted effort to probe the breakdown phenomenon.

Dr. Sue Stover, one of the researchers, has already made several findings involving "microfractures" in various types of bones in which it was thought such fractures did not occur. Microfractures, too small to be detected by the conventional X-rays that most track vets use, can lead to unexplained soreness in an animal and to breakdowns. "These microfractures can become a large fracture," Stover says. "I call it the postage stamp effect. Just as a stamp tears cleanly along the line of perforated holes, the larger fracture can occur along a line of microfractures." So breakdowns, she concluded, do not occur randomly in normal bone; they are ordinarily and tragically caused by horses taking the inexplicable "bad step." Veterinary scientists believe they are on to something significant.

In its efforts to diagnose microfractures and abnormal bone that would predispose a horse to a full-blown fracture, researchers at the Equine Sports Medicine Program at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine have been using scintigraphy, a technique in which a horse is injected with a radioactive isotope that isolates skeletal "hot spots"—places where injured bone is rebuilding itself. Scintigraphy, which has been used for years in treating humans, reveals more accurately than any other diagnostic tool the precise location and extent of the abnormal activity. The technique has gained such acceptance that a machine has recently been installed at Santa Anita—the first such device ever installed at an American track—and trainers are just beginning to bring their horses by to get their hot spots read.

"I had a filly that was sore all over, and I had no idea what was going on," says trainer Richard Mandella, who has 32 horses at Santa Anita. "Scintigraphy found stress microfractures in the hind legs, and now I know what to do to help the horse get back into training. The machine finds the needle in the haystack."

It is in that kind of learning process that researchers like Howard Seeherman of Tufts see the best chance for heading off racetrack breakdowns. "We must conform the training process to the healing and remodeling processes of the bone," he says. "The industry must realize this. It is not enough to talk about the infamous bad step."

But even if such advanced techniques succeed in warning horsemen of impending disasters by detecting the earliest stress fractures, the racing industry will always be faced with the unavoidable and inevitable accident—the dead-game horse who pushes too hard on the fragile envelope and falls, the horse who gets tangled in traffic while switching leads, the horse who does, in fact, take that bad step. However they go down, injuries of the kind that doomed Go For Wand—ruptured suspensory ligaments and blood vessels and a dislocated ankle—present a daunting medical problem. Horses are born with limited circulation to the lower leg, and when the few blood vessels to the area are gone, there is no delivery system for antibiotics to fight infection or for oxygen to prevent gangrene.

"Repairing is not possible when they do that much soft-tissue damage," Larry Bramlage, a noted Kentucky equine surgeon, says. "That's akin to amputation in people. Our size problems are bigger. They weigh a thousand pounds. The ability to reason with the patient is not there. A horse sleeps standing up, not lying down, and it's impossible to give the injured tissue some relief from bearing weight. The horse has to have four legs to walk on, or the opposite leg becomes overloaded and it starts to fail, bringing on laminitis. All of those things make it very difficult to save them."

But not impossible. Dr. Ric Redden, a prominent Kentucky veterinarian, has kept some horses alive for years by amputating wounded limbs and fitting them with prosthetic devices (box, page 86). And Bramlage is saving horses today who would have had little chance 15 years ago. He has surgically repaired a number of badly injured horses so that they are able to carry on with stud duty, including such popular stallions as Saratoga Six and Noble Dancer, using a procedure that involves fusing the bones in the horse's ankle joint. While the joint is forever fixed and immobile, it is strong enough to allow the horse to stand and bear his weight. Such surgery, he says, might have worked on the kind of injury suffered by Ruffian.

Whatever the encouraging indicators provided by medical research, those signs of progress are of minor import compared with the elephant in racing's living room, around which most everyone steps gingerly in various states of denial: drugs at the track. "I mean, get the drugs out of racing, man," says Ferraro. "The incentive now in racing is to use medication improperly. We've got to make it cost too much to cheat, make the incentive to race clean.... We had an excuse in the '50s and '60s and '70s because we didn't know any better about medication. But we know better now. We don't have an excuse anymore. We know what it does."

The incentive to diminish the incidence of breakdowns will come not only from a beleaguered industry pressured by a public increasingly disillusioned about the treatment of horses, but also from racing's other endangered species, the jockeys. On Feb. 23, 1990, in the sixth race at Tampa Bay Downs, a 27-year-old apprentice jockey named Benny Narvaez was riding a horse named That a Boy Girl on the turn for home when a mare named Dance Appeal, racing in front of him, went down with a fractured leg. Her breakdown triggered a spectacular four-horse spill in which Narvaez, a father of four who had just won his first race the day before, somersaulted over his mount's head when she tried to jump the horse sprawled in front of her. "I went over and onto my back," he recalls. "I hit hard. I knew I was hurt bad right away. I could not feel anything."

Two years later, in a court case that stunned the industry, a jury of five men and a woman awarded Narvaez $4.4 million in damages after finding that the racetrack was solely responsible for Narvaez's crippling injury—he is paralyzed from the chest down—on the grounds that the track veterinarian failed to perform an adequate exam on Dance Appeal before the race. Dance Appeal, trial testimony revealed, had a medical history involving an ankle injury that her trainer had treated with a corticosteroid a few days before the race. Sitting in his living room last week, Narvaez played a tape of the race several times over—"I have watched it maybe 500 times," he says. "There was nothing I could do"—and reflected on the perils that face his fellow riders every day.

"It is a dangerous sport, the most dangerous," he says. "In car racing the drivers have cages and seat belts. In football, equipment. Us, nothing. And we have to depend on the vets and the trainers and tracks to be sure we are racing on and against sound horses. We proved we are not. But, in a big way, it was too late for me. My accident could have been prevented, and so can others."

EIGHT PHOTOSBILL FRAKESThe 1990 Go for Wand tragedy was played out before a full grandstand at Belmont Park and a national TV audience.ILLUSTRATIONENID V. HATTONPHOTOJERRY COOKEThe breakdown of Ruffian in her 1975 match race with race Pleasure was a devastating blow to the sport.PHOTOJIM GODBOUTAt Belmont in '85, First Guess (in mud, obscured) snapped a leg and caused Charging Falls to tumble.PHOTOBILL FRAKESHigh-tech diagnostic tools could prevent some of the breakdowns Wilson (center) is studying.PHOTOBEN VAN HOOKThe soft life that leads a horse to the sales ring has helped make the modern thoroughbred less tough.PHOTOBILL FRAKESTampa Bay Downs was held responsible for the paralysis of Narvaez, crippled when a horse broke down.

As the hoof of a running horse strikes the ground a 12,000-pound load falls on the animal's cannon bone. When Prairie Bayou broke down in the Belmont, the cannon bone in his left foreleg broke, the suspensory ligament ruptured, the sesamoid fractured, and the pastern shattered.

Third Metacarpal Bone (Cannon Bone)
Fourth Metacarpal Bone
Proximal Phalanx (Long Pastern Bone)
Suspensory Ligament
Extensor Branch of Suspensory Ligament
Lateral Proximal Sesamoid Bone
Middle Phalanx (Short Pastern Bone)
Distal Phalanx (Coffin Bone)
Collateral Ligament of Coffin Joint
Distal Sesamoid Bone