Antes de que los caballos lleguen a la puerta de salida en cualquiera de las pistas de Pensilvania, se evalúa su salud y solidez para asegurar que estén en condiciones de competir. La seguridad y la salud de todos y cada uno de los caballos de carreras son la máxima prioridad.
La evaluación de los caballos y la determinación de su raza sana y en forma es de suma importancia, y esas inspecciones las realiza inicialmente la Comisión Estatal de Carreras de Caballos.
Después de la evaluación, el veterinario de pista interviene para una inspección adicional, y en Hollywood en el hipódromo nacional de Penn, el Dr. Jerry Pack, DVM maneja las responsabilidades de esa importante posición.
“He practicado 19 años en la parte trasera de una pista de carreras”, dijo el Dr. Pack. “He practicado en numerosas pistas de carreras y trabajé para la Comisión de Carreras durante aproximadamente 14 años y medio. Llevo unos 13 años en Penn National”.
“Soy el veterinario de la Asociación en Penn National”, explicó. “Voy a echar un vistazo a los caballos después de que hayan tenido su inspección previa a la carrera de la mañana después de haberlos mirado en el paddock. Voy a verlos por última vez con un jockey en la espalda”.
Su relación laboral con los jockeys es sólida. “Mi relación con los jinetes es excelente. Ellos saben que mi regla es que, si no les gusta cómo va un caballo, si veo que el caballo está mal o cojo o no, no voy a dejar que ese caballo corra. Así que dependo mucho de esos jinetes”.
“Ciertamente, si veo un caballo cojo, les guste o no, lo voy a arañar. Pero dependo de esos jockeys porque van a sentir más de lo que voy a ver”.
El Dr. Pack continúa vigilando a los caballos mientras terminan la carrera. “Dependiendo de dónde esté, porque estoy en la puerta de salida, así que si estamos en la rampa de 3/4, estamos corriendo 3/4 de milla, puedo ver a esos caballos como se detienen y ven si hay algún problema con ellos. Si estoy en la parte delantera, si la puerta está en la milla dieciséis, los veré detenerse cuando desensillen. La mayoría de las veces, dependiendo de dónde esté, realmente los miro. Los veré después de la carrera, solo dependiendo de qué tan buena sea el área de visión”.

If a horse is determined to be off or injured in some way, further steps are taken to assist the horse. “Either me or the Commission veterinarian that is in the saddling paddock will make a decision; is this horse severe enough that we need to watch him work, or is it something minor that we may just need to examine this horse prior to his entry to run again? So that is the discretion of the veterinarian, whoever is looking at that horse. Now, if there is something that happens on the racetrack during a race, and a horse pulls up or something like that, then that is me because I will go with the ambulance to pick that horse up. Any time that ambulance goes on the racetrack, I’m there.”
An emergency veterinarian is at the track every night during racing and is utilized if Dr. Pack has to send a horseback for further evaluation. “If I have a horse that I am sending back to the barn, I contact him and say ‘this is what I found on the racetrack’ and let him further evaluate it. If it is a horse that I absolutely can palpate fractures on, then I will advise the trainer what I found and what I think needs to be done. There are some injuries that they get no choice. If I have a canon bone fracture, there is no choice. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done for that horse.”
Different track conditions can make horses exhibit prominent aches, and Dr. Pack points out an important factor to eliminate them. “One of the issues in the cold weather, and it’s probably one of my pet peeves, is, in the winter time, those jocks don’t have a whole lot of protection on, as far as clothing. And they tend to want to bring those horses right out of the paddock to the starting gate, which I do not like. They’re athletes. They need to warm up, just like we do if we are going to go out and run; we not hoping to go out and just run, we’re going to warm up a little bit. So that’s an issue with me. I have visited with the jocks numerous times and told them, I want these horses to at least come out and jog a little bit and warm up before you put them in the starting gate and ask them to give us all they got.”
A Sloppy track can also aggravate some conditions in horses, as well. “Bowed tendons, which is acceptable to run, once they’ve healed, but they’re more prone to probably re-bow when running on a sloppy or “off” track. We do have conditions that if the track comes up bad you’re able to scratch that horse with no penalties, because of the racing surface.”
With the full support and backing of Penn National, Dr. Pack established the Mortality Review Process when he came on board, and it is now part of the HISA (Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act). “All horses that have catastrophic injuries, during racing or training, have to go before a review board. And I actually started that process in 2010. That is now the standard for all racetracks!”
Dr. Pack has always worked closely with the trainers and is always available for their concerns. “I have had an ‘open door policy in my office forever, and I have encouraged the trainers that, during training, if they start seeing an injury, or something coming up like horses coming back with sore ankles. And if I see something developing, or I think is developing, the first place I go is to track maintenance. I tell them ‘this is what I’m hearing of the horses training in the morning’. So we are proactive, trying to stay ahead of the curve.”
“We function very well as a team,” he added.
Before, during, and after a race, the safety of the horses is the priority. “I’ve been in all sides of this game. I’m probably a little more sympathetic when some of the things happen because I worked on the backside for so long. I know the game. I can be sympathetic to these trainers. We certainly don’t like to scratch horses, but I know what it takes to get one to the race, and if it is something I think is definitely a potential problem, I certainly am going to air on the side of safety. If I think it is an issue that is safe enough for the horse to run, I tend to lean towards the trainer, and again, by using the jockey that’s up on that horse’s back. If they feel comfortable riding him, then I feel my job is done.”
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