Bitten by the Bug

We’ve had an extremely disappointing summer, weather-wise and race-wise – the two are probably related. We’ve had a few places and the odd win here and there, but horses that should be winning aren’t, and some of our runners are turning in downright humiliating performances. It all started this spring. After what was starting out to be our best year ever down in Cagnes sur Mer, performance started to fall off. And then the coughing started.

At first, we didn’t panic. Vitamin C, echinacea and slowing down the work a bit should do the trick. But it didn’t. And it was hard to tell who was sick. The horses that were coughing were still eating like – well, racehorses. They seemed happy, no fever, no nasal discharge, just coughing. And not all of them. And some more than others. We did what you do in these situations – got the vets, did the blood tests, did the scoping, did the tracheal wash and more lab testing, disinfected the boxes. Everything came back negative. And still they coughed.

Four horses seemed to have the worst of it, so I played dueling veterinarians. We followed one suggested treatment for two of them, and another for the other two. One was more aggressive, chemically – seven days of a broad-spectrum antibiotic (even though we didn’t find any infection), followed by nebulizing with dexamethazone. The other protocol was an herbal cough syrup with DMSO and iodine. Not surprisingly, the second two improved, and the first two didn’t. But the frustrating part was that the horses who weren’t showing symptoms weren’t racing well either, for the most part. And this has gone on for months.

If it’s any consolation (and it is, I suppose just a little), I’m not alone. It seems almost everyone in France north of the Loire Valley has been hit with something. Even Andre Fabre (yes, Andre Fabre!) went 135 starts without a win. Now that’s saying something. Meanwhile, the guys down south have been cleaning up. Jean-Claude Rouget is lapping Fabre at the top of the trainer standings, and Henri Pantall is nipping at his heels. Six of the top ten trainers at the moment are all operating out of bases far away from Paris.

We may or may not all be struggling with the same bug – various permutations of problems are probably floating around. My theory is that the weather has been the root of the problem. Last winter was mostly cool and wet – very wet – but there was really no period of hard frost. And as much as I hate the cold, a good freeze kills many bad things, which this year were instead allowed to grow, fester and mutate. Summer has been strange, too, with really only a week of heat. Mostly it’s been a lot of rain and unseasonably cool temperatures (with the exception of the past couple of weeks).

In any case, all we can do is wait it out. As my friend Jean-Paul Gallorini, who is just pulling out of the same bad run of form, said: “Above all, don’t change anything.” We won races before using the same feed, the same training, the same yard as we have now. We will win races again. I realize this is the voice of wisdom, but nonetheless I have been looking more closely at our feed and mostly at our hay. It’s difficult to get consistent quality in hay, and since that is often the source of dust and various molds, I’ve finally invested in a hay steamer. I’d thought about it for quite some time, but was waiting to make sure it wasn’t just the latest gadget before getting one – not the least because they’re very expensive! But it seemed time, so we’ll start using it this week. It can only help.

Meanwhile, we forge ahead. We’ve put some horses on vacation that needed it, moved along others that needed moving along, and are kicking on with the best of what we have. The horses that have resisted are still running well, and I think we’ve turned the corner with most of the others. The good form will return. Watch this space!

4 thoughts on “Bitten by the Bug”

  1. Well, if it is any comfort, Aidan O’Brien’s stable hasn’t been doing well at all this year either. I agree with you about needing a killing freeze in winter for the bugs. We had a very cold winter last year and it was very noticeable in the delay of the appearance of mosquitos. I don’t think I saw a mosquito until July! And I have seen few Japanese beetles or stink bugs this summer. Take your friend, Jean-Paul’s advice, and don’t lose faith in your training regimen. This too shall pass.

  2. German trainers too have been hit by something more or less unexplainable, and nobody really knows the reason for bad performances.
    If course one tends to look for changes, and in my opinion it is wise to do so. Climate changes, and with that changes food and many more things. Looking for options is always good. Nothing stays the same — and if we adapt wisely, success will certainly come back.

  3. Sympathies, Gina. Can’t imagine a calling that’s more challenging at times like this … or more rewarding when things turn around. Hang it there!

  4. Robbed your best year ever by an unknown malaise – beyond frustrating! If Gallorini’s horses are doing better so will yours, soon.

    Just an idea. If horses were coughing without fever or other signs of illness perhaps the problem is allergies. Antibiotics wouldn’t help. Lots of rain should take down airborne stuff like pollen. Wind, though, can spread it. If things haven’t improved already, you could feed some horses steamed hay , others regular hay. Also, if your stable lends itself to that, you could try an air purifier or filters. A very small effect on breathing might only show up in a race.

    Here’s to 2015!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *