07/14/2010 12:00AM

One false step changes everything


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - No one should get ahead of the story. There is no reason yet to breath easy. The good news is that there still could be a happy ending. The bad news . . . well, in racing there is always a chance for bad news.

Especially in the case of Global Hunter, since the last time he was seen in public he was suffering from fractured sesamoids and a dislocation of the right fetlock joint, and being vanned off the turf course at Hollywood Park on the Fourth of July. The moment was made all the more wrenching by the fact that Global Hunter was missing his own winner's circle party, having just taken the American Handicap by a head over the stubborn front-runner Temple City.

It is hard to know if the offending step took place right at the end of the 1 1/8-mile event or in those first strides past the finish when Brice Blanc allowed his mount to shut down. It has happened before, though, more times than the game would like to admit, when a racehorse gives literally his or her last ounce of competitive energy to the cause.

Never forget that Flanders did not make it back to the winner's circle after edging stablemate Serena's Song in the 1994 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs. Tim Tam tried hard to win the Triple Crown in the 1958 Belmont Stakes, but the effort was in vain, and he was done as a racehorse after finishing second and pulling up lame. Ditto Charismatic 41 years later when he finished third in the Belmont on three legs. The point being he finished.

Global Hunter never played at those levels, but as a racing investment he was panning out nicely for his owners, Shawn Turner and Monty Pyle. Global Hunter's American victory, sour as it was, mirrored such efforts as his win in the 2009 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar and his close second in the '09 Oak Tree Mile.

Such memories have faded now in the wake of the American. That evening, a bandaged and sedated Global Hunter was vanned by a friend of trainer A.C. Avila up the coast to Alamo Pintado Equine Clinic in Los Olivos, just north of Santa Barbara. Dr. Doug Herthel, a pioneer in joint repair surgery and subsequent recovery, gathered his surgical team at six o'clock the following morning to open the damaged fetlock joint, where the cannon bone and the first phalanx meet.

"The sesamoids had body fractures," Herthel said, referring to the two small bones at the back of the joint. "He probably did that taking a bad step as he crossed the finish line, and by doing that he lost the support of the suspensory apparatus, which allowed the joint to luxate. And it was really luxated, back to front. What was extraordinary was that the collateral ligaments were intact."

Herthel and his team fused the joint with plates and screws, in addition to a mesh of wiring that, at least on the X-rays, looks like it dropped in from some other operation.

"That's a very important support wire," Herthel said. "It acts as a tension band, kind of like how they put cables on the sides of a crane, for structural reasons. The bone is drilled and the wire is run through, which is actually the hardest part of the surgery. Very tricky."

Ten days after the surgery, Global Hunter was recuperating as well as could possibly be expected.

"There's all kinds of things that can go wrong, but we've skipped over a lot of them," Herthel said. "He's laying down for a few hours a day, and he's walking evenly, which is key to the health of the other foot. The toughest part was actually getting the skin closed, because of all the swelling. We'll know more when we take the cast off in a couple of weeks and see how it has begun to heal."

Shawn Turner has been encouraged by Herthel's reports, but he wants to see for himself. The Turner family was planning to make the drive from their San Diego area home to Alamo Pintado on Thursday.

As for the events of July 4, Turner vividly recalls the race and the finish, and then looking for his horse galloping out but instead being shocked by the sight of Blanc dismounting.

"I remember falling to my knees, and the next thing I know I'm on the turf course, patting his head, blowing in his nose, just trying to give him love," Turner said. "Don't ask me how I got there."

The owner took his cue from Avila, and the message was grim.

"I know A.C. pretty well, and I could tell by the look in his eyes that it wasn't good," Turner said. "The state vet recommended we put him down, but A.C. protested. He wanted to at least get him back to the barn."

Turner is a Baltimore native who cut his racing teeth at Pimlico. He came West in the mid-1990s and entered horse racing as an owner in 2003. The stable's Made for Magic won the Milady Handicap earlier in the Hollywood Park meet. Global Hunter has been by far the partnership's most successful horse, with earnings of more than $400,000.

"Hopefully the story will have a happy ending," Turner said. "Regardless, we take pride in knowing that we've done all that we can do, and now it's in the hands of a higher power.

"He's the one telling us he wants to live," Turner added. "All I wanted to do was give him a shot. I didn't want to end like that."