Cornell to open new equine emergency hospital

Ruffian with jockey Jacinto Vazquez up.
Ruffian with jockey Jacinto Vazquez up.

Cornell University has signed a lease-buy agreement for the former Ruffian Equine Medical Center to establish a referral and emergency care hospital.

The deal has been made between Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Racebrook Capital Advisors, LLC to establish Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists.

Dr. Alan Nixon has been named the Chief Medical Officer of Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists.
Dr Alan Nixon has been named the Chief Medical Officer of Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists.

The hospital, located near the Belmont Racetrack backstretch in Elmont, New York., is expected to open on April 1, and will provide elective equine specialty services to horses referred by their attending veterinarians. Full emergency and critical care services will be offered by the Spring of 2015.

The 22,000 square-foot facility will provide state-of-the-art surgical, imaging, diagnostic and rehabilitation services to enhance equine health.

Dr Alan Nixon, a renowned equine orthopedic surgeon and director of the Cornell’s Comparative Orthopedics Laboratory, will serve as the Chief Medical Officer.

Drs Lisa Fortier and Norm Ducharme, pioneers in regenerative and laryngeal procedures, will also offer advanced surgical procedures.

The hospital will be staffed by Cornell University veterinarians and technicians and will offer a full complement of advanced orthopedic and soft tissue surgery and regenerative therapies, an internal medicine service, and a broad array of diagnostic modalities including advanced imaging such as MRI, CT, nuclear scintigraphy, high speed treadmill endoscopy, arthroscopy and laboratory services.

Dr. Michael I. Kotlikoff, Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said the team looked forward to joining the well-established horseracing and sport horse communities in the area.

“The hospital will be within walking distance of Belmont Park, recognized as one of the world’s premiere Thoroughbred horse racing facilities, and is easily accessible to the many sport horse enthusiasts located in and around the area. Our goals are to improve the health and safety of the equine athlete and by so doing to strengthen one of the world’s premiere racing programs,” he said.

Nixon said it was an exciting initiative for Cornell. “Through the establishment of Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists, Cornell will honor Ruffian’s legacy. She established herself as one of the greatest racehorses to set foot on the track and is known as the perfect champion and a courageous filly,” Nixon said.

“The new center will continue the sense of inspiration and achievement surrounding Ruffian, and we are eager to partner with the referring veterinarians to do so. We have multiple goals for our new hospital, all of which are patient-centered, client-responsive, and community-minded.”

Ruffian is buried near a flag pole in the infield of Belmont Park, with her nose pointed toward the finish line.

She earned the nickname “Queen of the Fillies”, after being voted the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Two-Year-Old Filly in 1974 and winning the Filly Triple Crown (now called the Triple Tiara) in 1975. Ruffian was undefeated in her first ten races. Her 11th race was run at Belmont Park on July 6, 1975, and was a match race with that year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure. The “Great Match” was heavily anticipated and attended by more than 50,000 spectators, with an estimated television audience of 20 million.

As Ruffian left the starting gate, she hit her shoulder hard before straightening herself. The first quarter-mile (402 m) was run in 2215 seconds, with Ruffian ahead by a nose. Little more than a furlong later, Ruffian was in front by half a length when both sesamoid bones in her right foreleg snapped. Vasquez tried to pull her up, but the filly would not stop. She went on running, pulverizing her sesamoids, ripping the skin of her fetlock and tearing her ligaments until her hoof was flopping uselessly. 

Ruffian was attended to by four veterinarians and an orthopedic surgeon, and underwent an emergency operation lasting three hours. When the anesthesia wore off after the surgery, she thrashed about wildly on the floor of a padded recovery stall as if still running in the race. Despite the efforts of numerous attendants, she began spinning in circles on the floor. As she flailed about with her legs, she repeatedly knocked the heavy plaster cast against her own elbow until the elbow, too, was smashed to bits. The vet who treated her said that her elbow was shattered and looked like a piece of ice after being smashed on the ground. The cast slipped, and as it became dislodged it ripped open her foreleg all over again, undoing the surgery. The medical team, knowing that Ruffian would probably not survive more extensive surgery for the repair of her leg and elbow, euthanized her shortly afterward.


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