01/21/2015 2:54PM

Deaf colt Tough Sunday proves to be a survivor


ARCADIA, Calif. – Tough Sunday might miss Saturday’s $250,000 California Cup Derby at Santa Anita because of a bruised foot diagnosed this week. Compared with what the colt went through in the first weeks of his life, the setback is almost meaningless.

Tough Sunday was born deaf and blind at owner and breeder Nick Alexander’s farm in Santa Ynez, Calif., in March 2012 after a complicated foaling in which his umbilical cord separated prematurely. The colt was deprived of oxygen for several minutes during foaling, Alexander said.

Quick action by farm employees Carrie Drake and Frank Rodriguez helped to save Tough Sunday’s life. Along with his dam, Sunday Dress, Tough Sunday was rushed to the nearby Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center for treatment under the direction of veterinarian Erin Burn.

The immediate diagnosis was grim.

“He was deaf, blind, and he didn’t have the nursing instinct,” Alexander recalled on Wednesday. “He had a heart murmur. After a couple of days, he developed pneumonia. He could stand, but he couldn’t lay back down. He didn’t have that in his abilities.

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“The third or fourth day, his mom gave up on him. He wasn’t nursing.”

After nearly a week without progress, Alexander was told that he needed to make a decision on whether to continue treating the colt. “The next morning, I went to the clinic,” Alexander said. “I went by to see him. There is a big window in the stall. When I walked by him, his eyes followed me. I thought, ‘It looks like he can see.’ I said, ‘This is good progress. Let’s keep trying.’

“Over the next few days, the symptoms started to abate. He was in ICU for about 30 days before we felt confident that he was on the road to recovery and we could bring him home.”

Back at Alexander’s farm, Tough Sunday was placed in a stall adjacent to his dam. Over time, Alexander said the two were turned out together in a pasture with other foals and mares.

“We kind of forgot there was anything wrong with him,” he said.

The only difference was the constant need to pail-feed Tough Sunday until he was weaned later that year. Even though he was deaf, Tough Sunday went through the normal breaking process as a yearling and was put in training early last year.

Tough Sunday was third and second in his first two starts in the autumn at Santa Anita and Los Alamitos, breaking slowly in both races. “The first two starts, he was an idiot in the gate,” Alexander said.

Trained by Steve Miyadi, Tough Sunday beat California-bred maidens by 6 3/4 lengths at seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Dec. 28 as the 3-5 favorite.

“He’s always been a little bit precocious, partly because we spoiled him,” Alexander said. “He’s a beautiful colt. From the beginning, Steve thought he had talent.”

The maiden-race win has made Tough Sunday a contender for the California Cup Derby at 1 1/16 miles, and it has given Alexander and Miyadi the hope that Tough Sunday can be a factor in races around two turns. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a colt who had a terrifying start to life.

“We’re hoping that two turns is his future,” Alexander said.

Alexander said that Miyadi was assessing Tough Sunday’s foot, with a decision on a start to be made closer to race day. On Wednesday, Tough Sunday worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 without shoes, Miyadi said.

“I’m not sure if we’ll be in the race,” Alexander said. “We’re hoping he makes it. We want to be careful. He’s a nice horse.”