Updated on 09/17/2011 10:43AM

Doc, it only hurts when he's standing up


ARCADIA, Calif. - Bosque Redondo waited until Hector Lopez had fluffed and carefully arranged the deep straw bedding into a perfect duvet, then pawed at the pile, lowered himself carefully, and eased slowly onto his right side.

Once situated, the red horse rested his head against the back wall of the large, airy stall. His front feet wore thick, protective bandages - one in blue, the other in white. His red coat was dull, but neatly brushed, and his left eye stared upward at the metal rafters of the high ceiling.

This is Bosque Redondo's basic routine at Equine Medical Center in Cypress, Calif., located just down the street from Los Alamitos Race Course. He has been there for nearly five months, since the sesamoids of his right ankle shattered at the end of the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He was supposed to be home by now - or dead - but the fact remains that the story is still without an ending, which is not the least bit tidy by Hollywood standards, but very true to life.

Full credit goes to owners Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan for making good on their initial vow to do and spend "whatever it takes" to save the life of their horse. Bosque Redondo went down taking one for the team, playing the role of Came Home's pacesetter against War Emblem in the Pacific Classic. Came Home won the race, but Bosque Redondo's challenge continues.

Anyone who thought that the injury required a cut-and-dried mechanical repair job was badly mistaken. Sudden trauma to the lower leg of a racehorse in full flight creates all manner of havoc. And while Bosque Redondo's surgery of last August was considered a rousing success, the patient has remained very much in a guarded state, under round-the-clock observation, with veterinary attention never more than moments away.

"He's doing well," said Dr. Vince Baker, who was on the scene at Del Mar and whose father, the late Bart Baker, established the Equine Medical Center.

"He's bearing good weight on the injured leg," Baker continued, "and it looks like there is good hoof growth, which is important, because he's getting ready to shed the old hoof."

Baker likened the process to the loss of a damaged fingernail as new, tender nail grows and pushes its way into place. In the case of a horse's hoof, all growth is downward, which means the old hoof must be regularly filed and trimmed as the new material encroaches. And heaven forbid that the old hoof should come off before the new hoof is ready to protect and support the tender foot beneath.

Which is what almost happened to Bosque Redondo.

"That was just before Christmas," McCaffery said. "It was a scary few days. I was ready to get the phone call at any minute."

Fortunately, the call never came. Instead, Bosque Redondo has soldiered on, defying the odds while helping his own cause.

"He's been a great patient, and he's very smart," said Dr. Wayne McIllwraith. "He lies down a lot, and that helps. If he wouldn't lay down he'd be dead by now."

McIllwraith has become a familiar face as part of the NTRA's on-call veterinary program at major racing events. He led the Bosque Redondo surgical team last August and has made weekly visits to see his patient ever since. Bosque Redondo's injury required an 18-screw plate, plus two long screws to fuse the damaged joint, inserted between the ankle and the cannon bone of the foreleg.

Initial signs of recovery were good. Bosque Redondo was bearing weight on the repaired leg and fighting off any post-operative infections. Founder is always a possibility in the healthy leg, which ends up carrying more of the load, but in this case there was no sign. Then came a nasty surprise.

"The sonofagun foundered in the same foot as the surgery," McIllwraith said. "We don't know why. It's never happened before. When he dislocated, he did have some vascular compromise. When that happens, the hoof can fall off, but they don't normally get laminitis a month or two down the road."

Symptoms of founder in the left front soon followed as well, then abated.

"It's been frustrating, and it hasn't been easy," McIllwraith said. But I feel he's going to make it."

McCaffery shares his optimism.

"I see him every week," she said. "To me, he just doesn't look like a horse who is suffering. If he was in pain, he'd be sitting back on his haunches, getting off those front feet.

"He's alive, he's aware, and he tried to bite me the other day, which I loved," she added. "Right now, I can go to bed every night knowing we've done everything we can for him."