Written by Frank Cotolo
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Topics: Sport, winner

Thursday, 27 May 2004

image for 'Crown' win could provoke skull-cracking trend
Head-mended Smarty Jones winning 'Derby'

ELMONT, N.Y. -- The thoroughbred horseracing world is poised for what might possibly be a Triple Crown winner but many inside the sport are concerned that a terrible trend may accompany an historical victory.

The horse, Smarty Jones, has become what some consider an all-time great racehorse. If he wins the Belmont Stakes on June 5, he will have won the three jewels of the sport's elusive Triple Crown.

Part of his rise to success includes recuperating from a fractured skull. Due to the extraordinary ability of this horse since that accident, horseracing officials are worried that desperate trainers may take to purposely fracturing their horses' skulls in the hope that it will improve their performance.

"Forget about drugs," said a racing official who spoke to me under the condition that he wears a fake nose, eyeglasses and moustache, "we could be seeing broken skulls by the dozens in the barn areas of racetracks across the world."

A down-and-out trainer who would not be identified unless I paid him $20, said, "My hammer is ready. If Smarty Jones wins the Triple Crown, I will be swinging it on the heads of at least four of my worse horses."

If skull-cracking becomes the next new fad among trainers, it could solve the ongoing drug problem in horse racing, but, as noted veterinarian Calias Bolt said, "Horses can die from having heavy objects slammed against their skulls."

And, as famous handicapper Bo Bo Finfinder said, "The first horse to win after having his skull cracked will only encourage other trainers to do the same. Then, the sport will have to consider making skull-cracking legal and putting a notation in the program so that players know just which horses have been struck."

"The case of Smarty Jones is peculiar," said Bolt. "Trainers should realize that not every horse that has recuperated from a fractured skull can necessarily run faster. At least not until studies have been done to show otherwise."

The Center for Equine Performance has suggested such a study. Dr. Bolt said he would be interested in becoming a part of that study. "I would start with rubber hammers," he said, "and horses no younger than three. And the impact of the blow would be increased daily until a fracture surfaced. Plus, we could get a feel for how hard a blow could be fatal."

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