Father and son racehorse trainers Alessandro and Antonio Sano reviewed a daunting x-ray on the morning of April 19, 2019. Their three-year-old thoroughbred filly Bella Ciao had just finished a breeze in 49 seconds flat when she pulled up lame in her right front leg.
She exited the track at Gulfstream Park West, her home racecourse in Miami Gardens, Florida, with a fractured leg and her racing fate hanging in the balance.
“She is a tough filly with a lot of heart, and she walked herself back to the barn where we had x-rays taken,” said Alessandro, who met with the track veterinarian right away to identify the problem. “When we saw it, we were nervous that she was headed to the breeding shed, and her career was over.”
But Alessandro and his father were not ready to give up on their special filly. They sent the x-rays to Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s board-certified surgeon, Dr Robert Brusie, to review. Brusie has looked after the Sano racehorses since they moved their business from Venezuela to the US in 2010. He quickly identified a condylar fracture and advised a surgical repair. Immediately after her diagnosis was confirmed, Bella Ciao made her way to the Hospital at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.
What is a condylar fracture?
A condylar fracture is a repetitive strain injury that results in a fracture to the cannon bone above the fetlock. The fracture is a result of excessive strain and weight carried over the cannon bone during high-speed exercise. On a radiograph, a condylar fracture appears as a crack that goes laterally up the cannon bone from the fetlock joint and out the side of the bone, essentially breaking off a corner of the cannon bone. Condylar fractures can be up to six inches in length.
Condylar fractures are further categorized into incomplete and non-displaced, meaning that the bone fragment hasn’t broken away from the cannon and is still in its original position. Or, they can be complete and displaced, which means the fragment has moved away from the cannon itself and can often be visible under the skin. Displaced condylar fractures with increasing degrees of separation become more and more difficult to repair as more work is involved to put the bone back together.
“A condylar fracture is a disease of speed,” Brusie said. “A condylar fracture was once considered the death of racehorses, and as time and science progressed, it was considered career-ending.
“Currently, veterinary medical sciences are so advanced that we have had great success with condylar fracture patients returning to full work,” Brusie said. “Luckily, with today’s advanced rehabilitation services, time, and help from mother nature, many horses can come back from an injury like this. My prognosis for Bella Ciao after surgery was very positive.”
Alessandro and Antonio have worked with Brusie on many horses, including their Kentucky Derby runner, Gunnevera, who earned $5 million. “He does an excellent job with all of our horses. We wanted to give it a shot for Bella Ciao, and it paid off,” Alessandro said.
“He told us that she would be back to the track, so we followed his instructions perfectly.”
Brusie prescribed stall rest and hand walking for the first several months of Bella Ciao’s recovery. She slowly began jogging, and then did faster work. On October 27, 2019, she returned to the track in a $45,000 Allowance race. With Leonel Reyes in the irons, Bella Ciao made her comeback in storybook fashion by winning the race and coming out fit, sound, and healthy.
Now a four-year-old, Bella Ciao, owned by Cairoli Racing Stable and Magic Stables LLC, won again on April 30, 2020, and finished third in a $60,000 race on June 27.
“While treatable, a condylar fracture is not an easy injury to come back from, but Dr Brusie is one of the best surgeons in the country, and we trusted him,” Alessandro said.
“She recovered brilliantly, and we could not be happier with how she is going now. She is a special filly, and we are thrilled that we took this chance on her.”