Updated on 09/17/2011 10:52AM

Dead horse's leg removed: The question is why


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering has launched an investigation into the mysterious chain of events following the death of Casual Conflict, a 9-year-old gelding who broke down in the seventh race Monday at Gulfstream Park, was euthanized on the track, and later had his leg amputated by a veterinarian.

"A veterinarian went into the area on the backside where horses are normally taken after being euthanized on the racetrack and amputated one of Casual Conflict's legs," Scott Savin, president of Gulfstream Park, said on Thursday. "At this point, the state is only investigating why the leg was amputated and removed."

Meg Shannon, press secretary for the division, confirmed that an investigation was under way but declined to comment further. Both Savin and Shannon declined to identify the veterinarian.

According to one official, witnesses later identified the veterinarian and investigators recovered the limb, which has been sent to a state laboratory for pathological tests.

Casual Conflict was owned by Mike Gill and trained by Mark Shuman, the meet's runaway leaders in victories with 33 through Thursday. Shuman acknowledged on Thursday that he had been approached by state investigators but declined to comment.

Casual Conflict broke down on the backstretch of a 1 1/16-mile race for claimers and was euthanized by Dr. Mary Scollay, a track veterinarian. According to Dr. Scollay, Casual Conflict suffered a "disarticulation of the right fetlock and a deboning injury of the right cannon bone," or what she described in layman's terms as an irreparable fracture.

Dr. Scollay said the normal procedure after a horse is euthanized on the racetrack is for one of the track veterinarians to conduct a more thorough examination of the animal after it has been removed from the track. "My associate, Dr. [Caroline] Gall went back to examine the horse in the course of her routine duties and discovered the body had been tampered with and the limb removed," Dr. Scollay said.

Doug Kickbush, one of two men who drive the Gulfstream Park horse ambulance, said he saw a veterinarian enter the area where they had dropped Casual Conflict within minutes after he had been euthanized.

"A veterinarian's truck pulled up just as we were delivering the horse, but I don't know which one," Kickbush said on Thursday. "I saw the individual who drove the truck inside the enclosed area alone with the horse as we pulled away. All I know is that horse had four legs when we dropped him off. When I heard what had happened, I even went back into the truck to make sure one leg hadn't fallen off before we'd gotten him there."

It was not immediately clear whether amputating a leg could remove evidence of an illegal or unethical act.

Dr. Larry Bramlage, a surgeon at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., said he knew of no reason to amputate a horse's leg except to study the site of a catastrophic injury. A horse treated with an illegal drug would still test positive despite the absence of the leg, he said, and any evidence of soreness or weakness in a joint is normally obliterated as a result of a breakdown.

The exception, Bramlage said, would be evidence indicating that the nerves in the leg had been severed, an illegal surgical procedure called a high neurectomy to relieve pain. Bramlage called that scenario "way, way out there."

"I haven't seen a high neurectomy done in 50 years, and when it was done, it was done on draft horses," Bramlage said. "I've never even heard of a Thoroughbred getting one."

- additional reporting by Matt Hegarty