DEL MAR, Calif. — It’s not what’s happening on the track at Del Mar that has horse lovers happy, it’s what’s happening above it. Perched in a tower near the finish line, Dr. Alina Vale has a bird’s-eye view of morning workouts. She’s looking for horses with underlying injuries.
“We're looking for any asymmetry in the way the horse is moving,” Vale said. “If they seem to be carrying more or less weight on one leg or the other or anything that shows that horse might need some rest of different training program.”
As one of two full-time monitoring vets at the track, Dr. Vale takes notes. Horses with minor issues are evaluated later and need to be cleared by a track veterinarian before they can race. If a horse has a major problem, Dr. Vale can radio a crew to immediately take that horse off the track for an inspection.
Del Mar officials invited News 8 behind the scenes to walk us through a typical inspection led by track veterinarian Dr. Barrie Grant.
See below for an extended look at Dr. Grant's inspection.
“Her back comes up when I stimulate her,” said Dr. Grant as he inspected a filly scheduled to race later this season. “So she probably doesn't have an arthritic back going on.”
Dr. Grant palpated the horse’s legs, feeling for fluid or inflammation. He also bent the legs to see if the horse flinched.
"It’s a pretty accurate test,” he said.
Not only are horses with questions evaluated, but every horse racing that day must also get the all clear from a track vet. The goal is to catch minor injuries before they become major issues.
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club has instituted a number of changes in the name of safety and has been one of the safest tracks in the nation over the past two years. That said, they still haven't reached their target of no deaths in a season.
Track officials hope these new changes - like adding Dr. Vale - will get them to their goal even if some trainers aren't happy when their horses are pulled.
“I think by the end of Del Mar, they're going to realize it's a necessity,” said Dr. Vale. “We need to change racing. We need to make it more humane and the public is demanding that."