Mine That Oxygen: a Vet’s Take on the Derby
By SID GUSTAFSON
Chalk that Derby win up to efficient use of oxygen. No mysticism or surprises in the equine physiology and podiatry camps, just good old dependable O2 at work, along with some nicely-nurtured hooves. Mine That Bird’s road trip from New Mexico brought the horse down into the oxygen the other runners in the Derby came up to, allowing a significant and readily apparent advantage as the race shaped up around the turn into the stretch run. Yes, the 135th running was a freight-train-passing-a-bum scenario if there ever was one, the bums being the other gaspers in the field groping for the oxygen that Mine That Bird sucked up down the stretch run ahead of them.
And some stretch run that was (and how did you like the call? The announcer seemed completely depleted of air.)
The outcome is not really all that surprising to the exercise physiologists and hoof bio-mechanicists laughing in the wings, not to mention the cowboys. Bird’s Rocky Mountain High conditioning stimulated the production of red blood cells by causing a release of endogenous erythropoietin naturally, and natural is the way to go these days as polo ponies attest.
High-altitude acclimation training is one of the oldest endurance strategies, and the affect appeared stunning. By the time Bird crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky his blood was attracting Louisville oxygen like Churchill Downs had attracted dreamers, sucking the stuff right of the air as we watched. If some of you are still wondering why you were feeling a bit lightheaded toward the end of the race, now you know why. I was sorry to hear a couple of ladies fainted, but such is the price to watch an oxygen harvester like Mine That Bird take a race.
Not only did Bird’s blood have the iron to carry the oxygen, his tremendous nares had the shape and flare to inhale the oxygen, much like his hooves had the shape and flare to handle the mud.
Did you notice the Bird had all four legs wrapped? Some consider leg wraps oxygen stockings, and after that performance more will become believers in the strategy. Lower leg pressure wraps can improve a runner’s max VO2 by increasing blood return from the legs to the heart. Additionally, Bird’s body shape and flying style made the perfect oxygen-assimilating piston, as did Calvin’s aerodynamic ride. With horses, each gallop is a breath you know, breathing being interconnected with running, a breath per stride. Did the mathematicians get Bird’s stride count? When they get it all added up, Bird outstrode the also-rans, outstriding equated to outbreathing the competition, enhancing his aerobic capacity further.
Note the oxygen miner’s nose and throat. The winner has the finest nostril flare of them all, pouring the essential horse racing juice into his lungs, to his big heart, to his gliding muscles, gliding muscles harboring a sweet reserve of oxygen to accelerate down the stretch run.
Like his black hooves handled Kentucky mud, his nostrils and blood kept him metabolically astride. The Miner held sway, I’d say, and would have most likely held sway against Rachel and Revenge had they chose also to follow him across the finish line.
With glide like his, Mine That Bird hydroplaned over the Kentucky mud. Yes, it appeared the horse did not break the surface tension like the other plodders along. Those water bugs that run across ponds, what are they called? Boatmen, yes, Mine That Bird’s hooves became his four boatmen, so oxygenated he was. Mudder hooves, yes. Mudder physique, yes. Mudder stride, yes.
What else made this the best Derby ever? Mudder lightness, as in the tapering trailer ride from the mountains. Tapering? you ask. The strategy of reducing intestinal volume to enhance mobility and flight is long practiced, and in this Derby metabolically perfected by New Mexican cowboys, whom it appeared also lost a few pounds on the trip to Louisville, and perhaps will lose a few more as the Triple Crown wears on. Tapering not only reduces a horse’s weight, but it also prepares them physiologically to run a route of ground. It appropriately alkalinizes them, naturally. With a Birdstone horse like That, why Woolley thought he ever needed to ride a motorcycle we will never know.
Gelding, the only gelding in the field wins. Gelding allowed man to domesticate horse like gelding allowed the Bird to win the Derby in gentlemanly fashion. Mine That Bird’s mare mining days ended some time back. On May 2 the Bird mined both oxygen and mud most efficiently. He did not have to bother himself with the hundred plus fillies in heat around the Churchill Downs backside that morning. No, Mine That Bird focused on running, and that lightened his load considerably, as well.
Before we end here, let us all express our gratitude to Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and her professional team of regulatory veterinarians for effectively representing the health and safety of all the 20 horses entered in the Derby this year.
Sid Gustafson, D.V.M., is a novelist and equine veterinarian specializing in thoroughbred sportsmedicine and equine behavior. He currently practices regulatory veterinary medicine, representing the safety and welfare of thoroughbred racehorses.