06/15/2006 11:00PM

State vet Seabaugh to leave position


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Dr. Steven Seabaugh, the highly regarded state-employed veterinarian at Chicago's Thoroughbred racetracks, is vacating his position on Friday, and his departure once again leaves Chicago's tracks one vet short of what would constitute a full staff.

Seabaugh has worked as a state vet, reporting to the Illinois Racing Board, for 17 years. He has secured work in a private practice.

"It's really been a great experience," Seabaugh said. "All the people here have been wonderful."

Seabaugh declined to discuss the intricacies of his departure, but did say that "some staffing issues" have complicated his work. Dr. Dawn Faulkner last week began work as a state vet, but she is filling a spot left open by another vet's departure last November.

"We'll be short-handed again," said Mark Laino, executive director of the Illinois Racing Board. "It's going to be a very difficult search to replace Dr. Seabaugh. We've lost a number of vets over the last six years, and it's becoming apparent to me that we may not be keeping up with the salary compensation."

The board cannot simply plug a new veterinarian into an open position. State hires must first pass through the office of the Illinois governor.

Christine Janks, one of the leading trainers at Arlington, said she believes the staffing shortfall could be compromising the welfare of horses, whose health the vets are charged with protecting. Janks said she is concerned about the adequacy of pre-race veterinary exams and questions the amount of "communication between trainers, the vets, and the racing board"

Breakdown rates up at meet

Arlington has experienced a higher-than-normal rate of breakdowns during races this meet, but the trend may merely be part of natural cycles, rather than a sign that something is amiss.

"You look at the bigger picture, and you hope that you go a couple months without anything happening, and that it evens out," said Seabaugh.

Three horses had to be euthanized on last Sunday's card. Two broke down in separate races, but in the second incident a trailing horse struck the horse that already had fallen, and suffered a catastrophic injury herself. For the meet, which began May 5, nine horses have been euthanized because of injuries resulting from breakdowns.

"One is too many," said Seabaugh, who added that the breakdown rate is running about double that of last year.

Few take the situation more to heart than Javier Barajas, Arlington's meticulous track maintenance supervisor. Barajas said he doesn't believe the breakdowns are related to the track surface, and said he has not heard complaints from Arlington's jockeys, the people on the front lines.

"Every day we go over the track at each distance pole," Barajas said. "I've been doing the racetrack the same ever since 2000. I'm scratching my head. It's very stressful. It can't be that there's something different with the track, because we've done the exact same thing as always. It's pretty tough."

'Equal' up for Arlington Classic

Count at least one horse in for the July 1 Arlington Classic, a $150,000 stakes that will be run one week after the $1 million Colonial Turf Cup, a race in the same division. That would be Equal Opportunity, who won the local prep for the Arlington Classic, the June 3 Awad Stakes, by almost three lengths. Equal Opportunity would have run the day before in a Churchill Downs allowance race, but came to the Awad when the allowance was rained off grass.

"We're happy with him right now," said trainer Bill Mott.

Mott also has Go Between for the Colonial Turf Cup, a new addition to the racing calendar that figures to hurt Arlington's 3-year-old turf series.

Swearingen juveniles impress

Sharp Illinois-bred 2-year-olds? Trainer Tom Swearingen has them.

On consecutive days this week, Swearingen won Arlington's first race with a good-looking Illinois-bred 2-year-old first-time starter, taking Wednesday's opener with Frances Slam and Thursday's with Barley Believable.

Swearingen through the years has established himself as one of the more reliable 2-year-old trainers in Chicago, and he said he has another four babies ready to start when the right race comes up.

Swearingen said his winners this week "have stayed sound all spring," but the two diverge in running style and body type. Barley Believable, who led all the way, has a longer stride, and Frances Slam, who rallied from several lengths off the pace Wednesday, "is more heavy made," Swearingen said.

Now, Swearingen does what any horseman with an early-summer 2-year-old maiden winner in Chicago does - he waits. An entry-level allowance is unlikely to fill in the near future, and Swearingen might have to await an overnight stakes race with these two horses.

Robertson has dangerous duo

There will be a break Sunday from the steady diet of weekend overnight stakes racing at Arlington, but no break from the steady diet of live horses sent out by trainer Hugh Robertson. The question in Sunday's featured eighth, a second-level sprint allowance, is which one of the Robertson horses might do.

Robertson, with 8 wins and 20 top-three finishes so far this meet, starts the speed horse Outsmoken as well as Upright, who will try to rally in the stretch the way he did winning an entry-level allowance here May 17. Others in the six-furlong feature are Casual Cat, Diamond Account, No More Politics, and Frenchburg.