La Festa E Domani: Questions, and Some Answers

Earlier this month, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board issued an emergency rule that would void the claim of any horse that died during racing or on the racetrack following a race; the action was taken as a result of the spate of fatal breakdowns that occurred over Aqueduct’s inner track this winter.

While the rate of breakdowns has slowed since racing moved last month to the main track at Aqueduct, Saturday afternoon saw an injury that fell on the far end of the gruesome scale. In the stretch of the fourth race, La Festa E Domani, a five-year-old gelding with a lifetime record of 25-1-1-0, fractured both sesamoids in his left foreleg while racing wide at the back of the pack. Jockey Ruben Silvera stayed on for several long moments as the horse ran, limping, before he eventually fell off. The horse kept going and was eventually caught, standing next to the outside rail, right next to the apron.

The injury was horrific, made worse by the distance the horse ran with the broken limb. It was the sort of injury that means the horse isn’t going to make it. Even inexpert eyes like mine suspected that.

So while gut-wrenching, it was no surprise that the screen was pulled out and put up in front of the small crowd that had gathered on the apron. There were some children standing there, and at least one person taking photographs of the injured animal.

Those of us watching cringed that a horse was injured, breathed relief that the jockey appeared unhurt, and regretted that La Festa E Domani would be put in down so close to the people watching from the apron.

And then we watched, incredulous, as the screen was taken down and the horse’s leg was put in a split and La Festa E Domani was walked onto the horse ambulance.

Was it because he was standing so close to the fans? Or was it because this was a claiming race and if La Festa E Domani were put down on the track, any claim on him would be voided? There didn’t seem to be any other reason not to euthanize him immediately, unless by some miracle the injury was less severe than it looked.

As it turned out, no one had in fact claimed La Festa E Domani (no surprise, given his record) and thankfully, even if he had been claimed, it would seem that the new claiming rule would have played no rule in the decision to van him off the track. According to a NYRA representative, the track veterinarian isn’t told until after the race whether a claim has been put in on a horse, making it unlikely that a vet would take a possible claim into consideration when recommending treatment for an injured horse.

And that’s a relief. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I think that the claiming rule is a step in the right direction, but I was concerned that vets might, despite their best, most scrupulous intentions, think about the financial ramifications of a decision to euthanize or not to euthanize.

I am not naïve enough to think that it would be impossible for a vet tending to an injured animal to learn about its claiming status, but I am relieved to hear that that’s not the way the system is supposed to work.

Which doesn’t, of course, explain why La Festa E Domani wasn’t put down right away, unless it was to spare the nearby fans that unpleasant sight. He was euthanized that afternoon, the second horse to be euthanized during racing on Aqueduct’s main track this spring.

I can understand the impulse, if indeed in this case there was one, to avoid putting him down so close to observers, while also seeing it as a kind of denial. If we’re going to enjoy horse racing, we’ve got to be prepared to see its consequences, too (says the woman who literally turned away from the sight on Saturday afternoon).  At the very least, if euthanizing the horse immediately minimizes his suffering, in this or in any other instance, then observers be damned: put the horse down where he’s standing. If taking him off the track might enhance his chances of survival, then that’s the call to make.

I don’t understand the people who stood there watching, who didn’t take their children back into the building, who snapped pictures of a suffering animal. In a perfect world, they’d have stepped away and let the vet do her work in relative privacy (as private as anything can be near a building populated by thousands of people).

In the absence of that, all the vet can do it take the best care of the horse that she can, and I write this hoping, trusting that there was a good reason to bring La Festa E Domani off the track before humanely ending his life. We might never know that reason, but at least we will know, the next time we have to watch a vet examining an injured animal, that whether it was claimed or not won’t play a role in what happens next.

11 thoughts on “La Festa E Domani: Questions, and Some Answers

  1. I understand your point, however as a former NYRA vet, we transport any closed injury where there is some limb stability, meaning there may be even a 1% chance of survival. I have seen horses who fractured both sesamoids go on to be broodmares. Its a long road, and it varies from case to case, but it is possible, and its not our job to say just because he was a gelding that he has less value than a mare if he has an owner willing to try to save his life. I knew this horse, and i’m saddened to hear about his death as well as so many other beloved campaigners. And we, as the track vets, do love them and therefore want to give them every possible chance at survival. It may be painful, but if there is a chance he could have survived it, it was worth a shot. Euthanasia is not a decision to be taken lightly, and we need to be damn sure it was the ONLY option. The vets there are well educated, passionate and experienced. And we definitely were never aware of claims until after the race, nor would we care. We made the best decision for that horse in that moment.

    • Thanks for commenting, Kristen, and for confirming what I thought I knew and definitely hoped. As you probably know, racing fans can be a cynical bunch, and I wanted to find out more about this and write about it to allay my own and others’ concerns about any effect the new rule might have–if you read my post from a couple of weeks ago, I thought that it might put vets in a terrible position, and I’m glad that that’s not the case. It’s great to hear that horses are given every chance to survive; I’m sorry that it didn’t work out in this case.

  2. When the new claiming rule was announced I was very outspoken about the morality of vanning a horse off vs. on track euthanasia. If you saw blood pouring from this horse’s Dangling Leg, than you know that his sesamoids and ligaments were in lots of DIRT. There was NO CHANCE of saving this horse.

    You don’t mention the trainer or owner, which I believe should have been included in you document.

    It is my opinion that with the screen up, and the meat wagon already there, NYRA made a decision to van him off with a BRACE, and euthanize him back at the receiving barn. Why? Better for business. wenching a corpse into the van post mortem on the track would be bad for the disgusted fans to see, and more time consuming. I’m sure he was given medication to ease his pain prior to returning to the barn. That way NYRA looks statistically better on the breakdown percentage.

    Never trust NYRA to tell the truth. If you have a question, call the Stewards who might forward your call to the Horse ID Office and ask the Chief Examing Vet whatever questions you might have.

    • Sue, I didn’t see blood pouring from the wound, nor did I mention a dangling leg. Is that what you saw?

      The ambulance goes to the horse pretty much time any one is pulled up, and many, many horses are walked on to the van without being euthanized, so I don’t see that as anything from which to draw conclusions about what decisions were made.

      The fatalities recorded at both the State Racing and Wagering Board database and the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database both include horses that were put down after they left the track, so this horse would have been included in both regardless of where it was put down.

  3. I had to go back and re-read your post after seeing the comments because I didn’t see any mention of blood or dangling legs…..

    I’d like to think they put him on the van because (as Kristen said) there was a remote possibility of him being saved, sadly that wasn’t the case here.

    I’m more than a little appalled at the people who didn’t take their children away from the scene and the people taking photographs.

  4. Pretty pathetic, parents not shielding their young children, and imbeciles taking pictures of the stricken horse. It almost suggests that intelligence testing needs to done, in order to guarantee admission to the racetrack.

  5. August, continuing to run a horse with this one’s record suggests an intelligence test might be warranted for owners and trainers, too.

    As a fan what upsets me almost more than the breakdown is that this horse was even still on the track. At age 5 with only 2 placings in 25 starts he should’ve gone to another career a long time ago. Exactly when did his connections think he’d start winning?

  6. Very fine article, Teresa. Thank you for giving us a compassionate and thought-provoking insight into this difficult issue.

    I agree completely with August’s and Linda’s comments.

  7. Absolutely, Linda, I totally agree! Sciacca, who was the trainer of the horse injured, runs his horses frequently, and they usually finish up the track. Then, out of the blue, and at huge odds, they show some competitiveness that either has been totally missing, or hasn’t been demonstrated in a very, very long time. I have seen this pattern repeatedly with Sciacca, and his owners. La Festa E Domani had showed that same pattern, while winning out of the blue, during the Aqueduct winter meet. Since June 6th 2010, when he made his first start, he had gone off at 42 – 1, 50 – 1, 86 – 1, 87 – 1, 61 – 1, 10 – 1, 45 – 1, 28 – 1, (In 2011) 111 -1, 14 – 1, 15 – 1, 77 – 1, 52 – 1, 16 – 1, 34 – 1, 67 – 1, 63 – 1, 47 – 1, 67 – 1, (In 2012) 100 – 1, 53 – 1, all while NEVER finishing better than 4th! On 2/17/12, the horse wins at 28 – 1 on the Aqueduct inner track in one of the slowest mile and sixteenth races ever run at Aqueduct, 1:50.01. On 3/7/12, he runs second at 29 – 1 in a slow mile and 70 yards race, 1:46 and change. On 3/17/12, he finishes fourth at 6 – 1, losing by more than 13 lengths, with the winning mile being won in the pedestrian time of 1:42.31. And on his ill-fated last start he goes off at 38 – 1. The horse earned $35,272 during 25 starts made over 22 months in which he raced. How much did it cost to breed this horse, maintain him before he raced, as well as the monthly training, vet and farrier expenses when he was old enough and ready to run? I’m sorry but, it just appears to be nothing short of an exercise in futility all the way around, which might cause some to ask the proverbial question, “Does anyone know the definition of insanity?”

  8. Repeating the same activity over and over while expecting a different outcome…

    August, thanks for the info on this horse. How odd, and almost sad, that he suddenly started winning this year.

    A friend told me it’s approximately $45,000 (give or take, depending on your location) to keep a horse in training which means La Festa E Domani never even earned one year of his keep and ultimately paid the tab with his life.

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