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Is the Jockey Really an Athlete?

The still-fresh images of American Pharoah’s victorious jockey Victor Espinoza standing in his irons, fist in the air, cruising past the stands of cheering spectators, legs bobbling to absorb the shock of each footfall, provide a perfect segue into this article by Betsy Parker.

jockey athleteA jockey isn't really an athlete, After all, the horse does all the work, right?  /  David Chapman photo

Overheard railside at the Foxfield Races near Charlottesville: One pastel-clad college kid to the next as they rummage for beer in their cooler before noon on Saturday: “Jockeys aren't really athletes. They just sit in the saddle for a few minutes. I could do that!”

I almost fainted. Here the most provocative lede of the decade just dropped in my lap, and I couldn't get to the jock's room fast enough to dangle the mother of all conversation-starters like a tenderloin in front of a pack of hungry dogs. Hustling up the hill, I tried the assertion on jockeys Gerard Galligan and Brendan Brooks. They laughed.

“Anyone who'd say that has never ridden a race,” Galligan sniffed.

“Anyone who'd say that has never ridden a horse!” Brooks countered. “There's so much more to racing than 'riding.'”

As the Irishmen trailed off to walk the Barracks Road course, I jotted some interview questions. There was more to the story than laughing at a schoolboy's boast. It's not only athletic endeavor that drives competitiveness, as I'd soon find out. It's part will to win, part boldness. Part athletic concentration, part love of sport. It's a certain level of excitement tempered by highly-honed mental agility.

A 1980s University of North Carolina study measured that pound-for-pound, jockeys are the strongest, quickest, most agile and most hardcore athletes on the planet. Had the researchers studied jump jockeys, they'd've doubled it.

Vaccinate Horses Now, Recommends VDACS

Mosquito season will begin soon in Virginia and has already begun in some areas. That means it’s time to start thinking about vaccinating your horses against mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile Virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). Rabies is not a mosquito-borne disease, but it’s a fatal disease that also requires an annual vaccination.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) urges all horse owners to check with their veterinarians for vaccination recommendations for their animals. Virginia only had one confirmed case of WNV (Augusta County) and one of EEE (Suffolk) in 2014, although many other states had a much higher incidence of cases.

“Timely vaccination has been shown to decrease WNV and EEE disease incidence drastically,” said Dr. Richard Wilkes, State Veterinarian at VDACS. “Without vaccination, we would expect to see many more infected horses, so we still urge horse owners to consider EEE and WNV vaccination. We believe that in most cases, private veterinarians will recommend them for their clients.”

Vaccines are effective for six to twelve months, so horses should be re-vaccinated at least annually. In areas where the disease occurs frequently, most veterinarians recommend vaccination every six months. For the vaccine to be effective it must be handled and administered properly and be given at least two weeks before the horse is exposed to the virus. Also, to stimulate full immunity, horses must be vaccinated twice, about thirty days apart, the first year they are vaccinated. Other prevention methods include destroying standing water breeding sites for mosquitoes, using insect repellents and removing animals from mosquito-infested areas during peak biting times, usually dusk to dawn. 

Dr. Wilkes also suggests that owners check about rabies vaccinations for their horses. There were no cases of rabies in Virginia horses last year but four each in 2012 and 2013.

Rabies vaccines are also very effective and vaccinating horses annually can prevent rabies in both horses and humans. In addition to taking measures to decrease the likelihood that horses will be exposed to rabies, routine rabies vaccination is a very important aspect of disease prevention.

All three of these diseases–EEE, WNV and rabies--cause neurologic signs in horses, such as staggering, circling, depression, loss of appetite and sometimes fever and blindness. The diseases can kill anywhere from 30 percent (WNV) to 90 percent (EEE) to 100 percent (rabies) of the horses infected.  There is no proven cure for these diseases, but veterinarians can provide supportive therapy to treat symptoms of EEE and WNV and keep horses from injuring themselves. Rabies is always fatal. Humans can become infected with rabies by handling a rabid horse but cannot become infected with EEE or WNV by handling an infected horse, nor can a horse acquire the virus from another infected horse. The presence of an infected horse in the area indicates that mosquitoes carrying EEE or WNV are present, however, and those insects pose a threat to both humans and horses.      

For more information on WNV or EEE, contact the Office of Veterinary Services, Division of Animal Industry Services, VDACS, at 804.786.2483 or see vdacs.virginia.gov/animals/diseases.shtml. Information about rabies and rabies exposures can be found on the Virginia Department of Health’s Rabies Control page at vdh.virginia.gov/Epidemiology/DEE/Rabies/. Horse owners should contact their veterinarians for further advice on prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Posted May 12, 2015

Maryland Hunt Cup 2015: One for the Books

mhc15.fence3.leesFence 3: (l-r) Imperial Way (Bethany Baumgardner up) about to jump; Raven’s Choice (Mark Beecher up) 1st; Almarmooq (James Slater up); Guts For Garters (Jody Petty up) 2nd; Twill Do (James Stierhoff up) / Douglas Lees photo

Ten minutes after crossing the wire first, a half length in front of Raven’s Choice, Imperial Way was disqualified. His jockey Bethany Baumgardner failed to weigh out with all the weight she carried into the race. Somewhere, during the course of the race, a twenty-pound weight slipped out of her saddle pad—a first in the 119 runnings of the Maryland Hunt Cup.

It was a double disappointment for Imperial Way, who was beat by just a nose in last year’s race by Stewart Strawbridge’s Guts for Garters. The odds-on favorite this year, Guts for Garters was trying for his second consecutive win, but placed second to Raven's Choice by six lengths after the disqualification.

Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point Races

odh15.amnov hurdleAmateur/Novice Rider Hurdle Race (l-r): Acela (Suzanne Stettinius up) 2nd; Controlled Neglect (Brendan Brooks up) 1st / Douglas Lees photo

The Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point Races were run on Saturday, April 4, 2015, at Ben Venue Farm, Ben Venue, Virginia.

Controlled Neglect, owned by Ann Braxton Jones-Lynch and trained by Jimmy Day, nailed down his second win of the Virginia point-to-point season in the Amateur/Novice Rider Hurdle series by two lengths over Acela. The second place Acela, trained by Eva Smithwick, won last week’s Novice Flat Race at Orange County. Acela set the early pace in the four-horse field, with Controlled Neglect keeping in close touch. The pair jumped the last fence together, and Controlled Neglect took over from there. Brendan Brooks was in the irons for both the Old Dominion and the Blue Ridge wins.

Hopefully, before the season ends, we'll see a match-up between two-time winner Controlled Neglect and Greg Ryan’s veteran hurdler, Spy in the Sky, winner of last week’s Amateur/Novice Rider Race at Orange County.

Gregg Ryan, MFH Back in the Winner's Circle at Orange County

och15.amnov hurdle.leesAmateur/Novice Rider Hurdle Race (l-r): Special Guy (Ben Swope up) was second by a length to winner Spy In The Sky and Gregg Ryan, MFH.  /  Douglas Lees photo

The Orange County Hounds Point-to-Point Races were held on Locust Hill Farm, Middleburg, Virginia, on Sunday, March 29, 2015, perhaps the nicest spring day for racegoers yet this season.

Gregg Ryan, MFH of the Piedmont Fox Hounds and the Snickersville Hounds in Virginia, marked his return to the racecourse by winning the Amateur Novice Rider Hurdle Race on his veteran, Spy In The Sky. Ryan allowed Ben Swope on Special Guy to set the pace for much of the race, before pulling away with five furlongs to go. Special Guy, as he did at Warrenton, made a late rush, but not enough.

Spy In The Sky is trained by Eva Smithwick, Gregg’s Joint-Master at Snickersville. Trained in years past by Jimmy Day, Spy in the Sky won the $100,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Handicap at Saratoga in 2012, returning long odds of 25-1 to the lucky ticket holders there.

Trainer Teddy Mulligan Returns, Wins at Blue Ridge

brh15.mulligan.getaway.kleckTrainer Teddy Mulligan marked his return to the racecourse with a win in the first race. / Nancy Kleck photoThe sixty-sixth running of the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point Races were held at Woodley Farm on Sunday, March 22, 2015. This was the second year in a row that the Blue Ridge race meet had to be postponed due to the weather.

Trainer Teddy Mulligan returned to the racecourse after a year’s absence, saddling his first horse for the first race since his leave-taking and scoring his first win. Bedizen and Zol Zayne, the one-two horses, pulled away from the field of four in the Maiden Hurdle Race with less than a quarter mile to run. Turning for home, Bedizen with Jeff Murphy up took the lead and drew away for a convincing win.

In the remaining two hurdle races—Amateur/Novice Rider and Open Races—trainer Jimmy Day and his rider Brendan Brooks dominated the Winner’s Circle with Controlled Neglect, owned by Ann Braxton Jones-Lynch, and Manacor, owned by a Daybreak Stables syndicate.