Elite sprinter Fabulous Strike underwent stem cell treatment at New Bolton and 18 months of rest following a soft tissue injury. He won his comeback race for trainer Todd Beattie at Penn National in April. Photo credit: Horesphotos.com/NTRA
It’s easy to root for Fabulous Strike.
One of the elite sprinters between 2007 and 2009, the dark bay gelding was headed to the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Sprint as one of the favorites until he suffered a strained ligament in his left front pastern running second in the Vosburgh Handicap. When the injury hadn’t come around by last summer, trainer Todd Beattie shipped him to the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa. where he underwent stem cell therapy.
Laid up for 18 months, Fabulous Strike launched his comeback with a resounding wire-to-wire victory in a six-furlong allowance race at Penn National Race Course. Despite a sloppy track as the result of heavy rains on the evening of April 8, Beattie and owner Walter Downey decided it was time for the 8-year old gelding to get back into action.
Penn National’s leading rider Dana Whitney hustled Fabulous Strike from the starting gate and the pair led four rivals through an opening quarter in :22.08 and half-mile in :44.58. Whitney kept the Pennsylvania-bred to a steady drive to the wire turning back stakes winner Peppi Knows, who stalked the leader from the break. Fabulous Strike scored by two lengths in 1:09.53.
“He’s never been beat at six furlongs over a dry, fast track, but we had confidence in the (Penn National) surface and we knew he was ready to run,” said Beattie who owns a private barn adjacent to Penn National.
“People are always asking me if I think he has lost something. If he has, I can’t see it. He gets up every morning and is ready to go to work. He acts like a three-year old, not some old horse. He’s got a monstrous motor and he gets really geared up for his big races. He’s a special individual. We treat him like a prized possession.”
Whitney was sitting in for Fabulous Strike’s regular rider Ramon Dominguez who had a previous commitment to ride at Aqueduct Racetrack. Whitney had piloted the horse to three consecutive victories in stakes races at Mountaineer in West Virginia. One of the swiftest horses in the opening quarter mile over the past decade, Whitney was aboard when the son of top-notch sire Smart Strike posted a career best 119 Beyer Speed Figure in 2007.
“He is a very intelligent horse and knows how to take care of himself,” observed Downey, a retired investment banker who lives in Boston. “Fabulous Strike is a very physical horse who loves to train and race. When he’s saddled in the paddock he’s constantly eyeing the track. He’s all business. He comes out of the gate like a shot and can carry his speed a long way if he’s in top form.”
Fabulous Strike is slated to race next in the $75,000 Changing Times Stakes at Penn National on May 27. Heading into that race he has a career record of 15 wins and five seconds from 25 lifetime starts, with 12 of those wins coming in stakes. His career earnings stand at $1,451,972.
Downey is the owner of Tea Party Stable that sells a good number of his colts and fillies at auction. He has ten horses at the track, six two-year olds in training, eight yearlings and 15 broodmares. Back in 2003 when the slots revenues were getting ready to flood into Pennsylvania tracks, Beattie suggested Downey race, rather than sell, some of his best youngsters.
A longtime client of Ron and Barbara Rickline’s Xanthus farm in Gettysburg, Pa., Downey had purchased Fabulous Strike’s dam, Fabulous Find, privately from local breeders/owners Victoria and Dennis Tanchak. The mare was carrying the soon to be named Fabulous Strike, who turned out to be Downey’s first stakes winner in his 30-year career as an owner.
When the colt was frolicking about the fields of Xanthus Farm, Barbara Rickline could see he was a cut above the rest.
“He was a standout from day one,” recalled Rickline, who raised him until he was sent to Changing Times Farm in Ocala, Fla. to learn the racing game. “We always said he would be a nice one.”
Fabulous Strike’s brilliant speed was tempered by belligerent behavior.
“We had to geld Fabulous Strike at age two because he was very unmanageable,” Downey related. “A couple of months later the Ocala farm’s trainer called me and said ‘this is the one,’ so we knew early on.”
Known as Striker around Beattie’s private barn, Fabulous Strike is one of the fastest horses in the opening quarter-mile racing has seen in the last decade. He also has shown that he is capable of turning in a huge effort if a dogfight ensues. However, illnesses and physical problems have plagued Fabulous Strike throughout his career.
On an oppressively steamy July 2007 afternoon at Calder Racetrack near Miami, Fabulous Strike staggered home fifth, suffering from severe heat exhaustion.
He rebounded and stole the show sweeping away the competition with a 5-3/4 length victory in the $400,000 Vosburg Stakes at Belmont Park. It was his third win in four starts that year and his first Grade-1 victory.
But in the days after his sensational triumph the gelding’s breathing became labored and he was shipped to the New Bolton Center. Tests revealed a small abscess on his lung. The infection soon grew into a serious case of pneumonia and a shunt was placed into the horse’s chest so he could access doses of antibiotics multiple times per day.
“It was touch and go for a while,” recalled Beattie. “We were confident that he would pull through but unsure as to whether he would ever regain the type of form he had shown. But he’s bounced back every time.”
“He’s had some tough luck with these setbacks, but sometimes these things just pop up,” said Downey. “I think he uses that steely determination he exhibits on the track to overcome these physical issues.”
Fabulous Strike recovered from the bout with pneumonia and scored two stakes wins in 2008. But he finished a disappointing fifth to Midnite Lute (a son of the late Pennsylvania stallion Real Quiet) in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint where he didn’t handle the synthetic track at Santa Anita Park. The gelding shook off that defeat, winning the Fall Highweight Stakes at Aqueduct in November 2008 and recorded the highest Beyer Speed Figure (113) of the year on the New York oval, while also carrying a brawny 136 pounds.
Stem Cell Therapy
In horses, as in humans, tendon and ligament injury can occur due to repetitive strain or from direct trauma. When galloping, a horse’s tendon stretches to near its limit. In the past it could have meant the end of a racing career, or best case scenario, putting the horse out into a field to heal after tendon and ligament injuries. And there is a high rate of re-injury.
Today, regenerative medicine is proving be the way forward for soft tissue injuries. Stem cells, with their remarkable ability to multiply, are at the heart of it. The cost of the stem cell therapy has been reported at around $2,500 for just that procedure.
In May 2010 when an ultrasound determined Fabulous Strike had a ligament strain in his pastern, the horse underwent stem cell therapy twice along with five shockwave treatments at New Bolton Center in an effort to get him back to the racetrack. The procedures were executed by Dr. Michael Ross, DVM, Diplomat, ACVS and Professor of Surgery.
“Fabulous Strike had never had a soundness issue his whole career and it wasn’t like he was limping or anything, but he just wasn’t right,” said trainer Beattie. “We decided to go the stem-cell route. I found it a fascinating technique. I can’t praise the New Bolton staff enough and how impressive Dr. Ross is.”
Fresh liquid bone marrow was harvested from Fabulous Strike’s sternum and processed using a special centrifuge to produce approximately 12 ml of bone marrow concentrate which was injected into the lateral oblique sesamoidean ligament after the horse was placed under general anesthesia.
“In this horse the injury appeared to be primarily bony in nature-- he had substantial bony proliferative change on the distal lateral aspect of the proximal phalanx, an unusual amount for a primary soft tissue injury,” explained Dr. Ross. “I felt the horse must have traumatized this area, perhaps in a starting gate, rather than develop the more common injury of the lateral oblique sesamoidean ligament near its origin on the base of the proximal sesamoid bone. So, I treated both the soft tissue (bone marrow concentrate) and the bone (shock wave therapy).”
The stem cell therapy procedure is more prevalent in high end sport horses than racehorses, according to Dr. Ross. “Using the principles of regenerative medicine and shock wave therapy, and the sensible amount of rest and rehabilitation are the best treatments available today,” Dr. Ross noted. “The horse’s vet, Dr. Renee Nodine, and trainer Todd Beattie really deserve the credit for insisting the horse get the proper amount of rest and their patience, and diligence, in managing Fabulous Strike.” After a few days of stall rest, Beattie’s staff started off walking him an hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon at a strict and controlled pace.
“It was slow progression so there was no stress or strain,” Beattie said. “After awhile each day we increased his speed and distance. He was a very good and willing patient, so he helped us out too.”
“Todd and his team did a terrific job of getting him back to the track,” Downey said.
Fabulous Strike’s connections are taking gradual steps with him, but one goal is to run the $150,000 Alfred Vanderbilt Stakes in Saratoga in August. He won the race in 2009 and has a strong following of Belmont Park racing fans. Next would be the $400,000 Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont in September. He has won it once and finished a close second twice. If things go real well, perhaps the Breeders Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in early November.
How long can he keep racing?
“He’s a horse of a lifetime, one of those smart old geldings that has figured out the racing game,” Downey replied. “He’ll let us know when it’s time to quit.”