Day At The Track

Hush! On the road to recovery

05:44 PM 25 Oct 2007 NZDT
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Hellava Hush
Hellava Hush - In a previous victory from 2006 at Pompano Park
Lap Time Photo – Skip Smith

After a seventeen-month hiatus, Hellava Hush, one of North America’s finest trotters has returned to the races.

The flashy son of Lindy Lane, from the Arndon mare Kindava Hush, last raced at The Meadowlands on May 20, 2006. Up to that point he had earned $1,129,429 and taken a mark of 1:51m, and he was clearly recognized as a major contender in the older trotting ranks, but his career suffered a serious setback a day after that last race -- the $175,000 Cutler Memorial Final.

Hellava Hush’s trainer, Bill Gallagher, explained to us the reasons why the horse missed so much time, and about the high-tech science that was used to bring him back to the races. It’s a story about how two of the nations top veterinarians, a patient, a well-informed owner, a gifted trainer, and a dedicated groom all came together to ensure the safe and sound return of a great champion.

“He was a strong second in the Cutler Memorial Final,” Gallagher remembered. “The following day, however, when I had him turned out in his paddock, he managed to somehow roll under a fence and stretch out his left front tendon. He didn’t bow the tendon in the conventional sense, but what he did do was stretch out almost all the tendon fibers way beyond their normal limits.

“He wasn’t lame or anything like that but there was a thickness in the leg that showed something was wrong. That thickened tendon was like a warning light going off in your car. The car might be running okay but we knew something was wrong and we jumped on it right away. He’s the best horse I ever had and I wasn’t going to leave any stones unturned.

“I first brought him to Dr. Patti Hogan and the New Jersey Equine Clinic, and she did a complete ultrasound examination. She explained that his deep flexor tendon fibers were not torn, but they had been severely stretched. We made the decision to go right to the top and brought him to Dr. Alan Nixon at Cornell University. His recommendation was that we try stem cell therapy with plasma enriched blood, but first we had to harvest bone marrow and use Hellava Hush’s own stem cells to facilitate the treatment.

“We sent Hellava Hush back to Dr. Hogan and she was able to aspirate bone marrow from the horse’s sternum. We put the marrow in plastic bags used for that purpose, and sent them back to Dr. Nixon via FedEx. He told us that it would take between 28 and 32 days for him to grow enough stem cells to do the procedure. On day thirty-two I got a call from Dr. Nixon, and he told me to get the horse back to Cornell as soon as possible because the stem cells were ready.

“The first thing Dr. Nixon did was to draw 100ccs of blood from the horse, and then separate the major blood components so that what we ended up with was plasma. The stem cells were then mixed in with the plasma, and under ultrasound guidance he injected three suspicious spots that showed up on the scan. The instructions were that the horse stand in his stall for ten days, and then graduate to thirty days of hand walking.

“I had the option of turning him out or finding some kind of controlled exercise. I opted to put him on water treadmill. He’s big horse and the water level takes away about 50 to 75 percent of his weight. I thought this was a great way to get the exercise into him without putting any strain on the injury while the stem cells did their work.”

According to Gallagher the horse should have been back in 9 to 12 months, but Gallagher’s sincere dedication to the horse, and the fact that there was a minor stumbling block with the injury, prolonged Hellava Hush’s return even further.

“After we did a final ultrasound on the horse,” Gallagher recounted, “there was a suspicious spot on the tendon just below the areas where the stem cells had been injected. Something was going on in there and I decided to back off with him. By that time he had already been in full training but I made the decision to stop with him again and the restart him after a two month rest.

“Perhaps if he were in another barn he would have been started sooner, but his owner, Joseph Chnapko, is all for the horse, and regardless of what might lie ahead, the horse has a home for life.”

It seems that the extended rest did the trick because Hellava Hush returned to the races in a qualifier at Harrah’s Chester. He gave a strong performance with a third place finish and an official clocking of 2:00.2. He returned to Chester a week later for another qualifier, and this time he won the two-horse qualifier in an impressive 1:59.2 with Cat Manzi in the bike.

“We wanted to start him Chicago in the American-National,” Gallagher said. “But Cat Manzi suggested that he might not be quite ready for that and it would be best to let the horse tell us when he’s ready. Actually, it was a joint decision that I made with Cat, Mr. Chnpako and Tom Sells, who is my driver here in Florida. We came to the conclusion that the best course for the horse would be to qualify him again and then race him in an overnight at Chester. Then I’ll bring him to Pompano and let him brave up racing there. I’ll plan on racing him two times a month.

“Even when he was in top form it always took about three races for him to tighten up, and now with age and the amount of time he was away it might take longer.

“I have a rule of thumb with injuries like this. If the horse makes it past six starts you’re pretty much over the hump. So far he has been good in two starts and we’ll see what happens as we move along. If all goes well I’ll point him to The Mack Lobell at Pompano. They run that race the same night as their premier event, The Isle of Capri. He won the Mack Lobell in 2006, and hopefully he can do it again in 2008.”

Gallagher is not entirely sure of what the future holds for Hellava Hush, but he is confident in the knowledge that he did what was best for the horse, and that if things go according to plan the horse could very likely make it back to the high level of competition against which he is accustomed to racing.

“He was always right there with the best ones,” Gallagher said. “He won the 2005 Nat Ray for us in 1:51, and that was a brilliant display of what this horse can do. In reality, he only raced poorly one time. That was in the Titan Cup Final in 2005 at The Meadowlands, but we found that he had a gastric ulcer. He rebounded really quickly from that and almost won the $250,000 Classic Series at The Meadowlands. He was second that night to Mr Muscleman, and then he went on to his big win in the Nat Ray.”

It looks like Hellava Hush is the kind of a horse who knows how to recover from whatever ails him, and if his luck, and the dedication of his connections hold out -- and there is no question in that regard -- he will again be the major contender he was before he took that unfortunate roll under his paddock fence.

by David Mattia, USTA Web Newsroom senior correspondent

ourtesy of The US Trotting Association Web Newsroom

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