Equine Biological Passports: Years Away, But Receiving Industry Support

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04.12.2018

 

The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council (KEDRC) unanimously voted this week to allocate $15,000 to funding ongoing research into biological passport. Although the technology is at least a couple of years from implementation, Dr. Scott Stanley of the University of California-Davis said the passports could solve several problems in drug testing.

Regulators face particular challenges testing for long-acting prohibited substances like erythropoietin (EPO) and drugs creating steroid-like effects in the body. EPO in particular withdraws from the blood very quickly, but its impact (increasing the concentration of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the body) lingers considerably longer. Both steroids and blood doping agents also tend to be used repeatedly but often weeks in advance of a race. Out-of-competition testing can act as a deterrent for these substances, but regulators still have a short window to actually find a positive level of the drugs in the horse’s system.

Biological passports track the responses of proteins and biomarkers to the administration of drugs like these even after the drugs themselves are gone. Stanley said the technology also gets around a common concern on the part of horsemen: what if a given horse, through no manipulation, is a natural outlier in the range of ‘normal’ for a hormone or protein? Sampling for passports would be taken repeatedly over an extended period of time, allowing regulators to compare a given reading not just with the normal range of the whole population, but also to the horse’s own previous readings.

Before the technology is ready for use at the racetrack though, Stanley and other researchers have to look at a range of markers in the equine body to decide which are the truest indicators of drug administration. Hormones and blood levels fluctuate naturally in response to the time of day, the season, and maybe a horse’s location.

Initial tests on a research horse looking at P27425 (an iron binding protein) produced exactly the results scientists expected. They plan to collect data from 50 to 100 horses in California in over one or more years to see how biomarkers behave in horses and which are the most consistent. When passport testing begins, Stanley anticipates a cross-section of horses will need to be sampled on a monthly basis in addition to post-race readings. As a greater cache of data is collected and stored, the monthly testing will become unnecessary.

The California Horse Racing Board and Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation have already provided funding to the project.

Dr. Andy Roberts, member of the KEDRC, questioned whether different (completely legal) training or feed routines could also cause a noticeable change in a horse’s passport levels. Stanley said it’s possible they could, so changes in passport readings would need to be taken as just a piece of the greater puzzle in what’s going on with a horse.

“Right now we would definitely see it as [a tool to initiate] an investigation: ‘This horse has been flagged for further follow-up’ and we’d get additional sequential samples from that to see if that horse is naturally outside the normal boundary,” said Stanley. “In the future, I think we could have enough additional data to say, ‘The upstream and downstream changes are not consistent with anything other than an administration.’ We just don’t have that data definitively yet to say what those changes should be.”

Unfortunately for equine researchers, the work that has been done on human biological passports with regard to blood-doping agents doesn’t seem as though it will be applicable to horses. The equine spleen is considerably different from that of humans, and its ability to suddenly contract with exertion causes changes in blood levels that would not be typical in a human.

The good thing about biological passports for racing regulators is that the technology won’t care what type of drug a trainer may have used to influence red blood cells or muscle tone, since they measure the body’s reaction instead of the size of drug molecules.

Like drug testing however, Stanley cautioned biological passports will be a constantly-evolving scientific process – but one that could have major impacts on integrity down the road.

“It isn’t a short-term project. It is years-long to get enough data,” he said. “The whole project is underfunded and it would take a long time even if it was fully-funded. I suspect we’ll be looking at more data in a couple years rather than a couple weeks.”

“The long-term intent is to provide deterrence. I truly believe that drug testing is about deterrence. We want to convince people we can test for everything and anything at any concentration that is prohibited. Just as we’re doing in Quarter Horse racing with a lot of hair testing right now, we would like to prevent [violators] from racing rather than penalize them after the race as an unfair competition.”

 

Veterinarian Hebert, Kohll’s Pharmacy Fined, Sentenced In Dermorphin Criminal Case

by | 02.24.2018 | 2:13pm

 

Dermorphin was originally extracted from the South American tree frog

 

 

On Nov. 7, 2017, a federal jury found a Lake Charles veterinarian and a Nebraska pharmacy guilty of conspiring to sell an unapproved opioid drug 40 times more powerful than morphine for the purpose of improving the performance of race horses.

Kyle James Hebert, 42, of Lake Charles, La., and Kohll’s Pharmacy & Healthcare Inc. of Omaha, Neb., were sentenced this week, reports katc.com.

Evidence admitted at trial revealed that from November 11, 2010, to December 2012, Hebert, Kohll’s Pharmacy & Healthcare Inc. of Omaha, Neb., which operated as Essential Pharmacy Compounding, and others conspired to distribute a synthetic form of the drug Dermorphin, which was then given to racehorses to improve their racing performance. Essential Pharmacy Compounding was found to have repackaged a synthetic form of the drug that it obtained from a California chemical company, labeled it as D-Peptide, and sold it to Hebert and other veterinarians.

Hebert then put the drug into syringes and gave the loaded syringes to the racetrack trainers tasked with the horses’ care. Evidence at trial revealed that Dermorphin is a strong painkiller that masks horses’ pain and any pre-existing injuries. Depending on dosage, it can also act as a stimulant when injected in horses. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved the drug for use in humans or animals. Known widely as “frog juice” or “kambo,” dermorphin in its natural form comes from the excretion of Amazonian tree frogs. It is being used by humans recreationally or for drug addiction treatment or “cleansing — though it is not approved by the FDA for that use.

Hebert was sentenced to 15 months in prison, having been found guilty of one count of conspiracy, two counts of receipt of adulterated or misbranded drug with the intent to defraud and mislead, and one count of misbranding a drug while held for sale with the intent to defraud and mislead. He was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and sentenced to three years of supervised release.

Kohll’s Pharmacy & Healthcare Inc. was ordered to pay a $200,000 fine and sentenced to five years of corporate probation. It was found guilty of one count of conspiracy and two counts of introduction of adulterated or misbranded drug in interstate commerce with intent to defraud and mislead.

Read more at katc.com.

Indictments

Eight trainers received lengthy suspensions in the Dermorphin case. Read more here and here.

Trainers, Agents Beware: Telephone Con Artist Is At It Again

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Trainers and bloodstock agents in California, New York and states in the Midwest are being targeted by a telephone con artist who falsely claims to represent a wealthy international businessman interested in retaining them to buy horses on his behalf.

The scam is almost identical to the one reported in the Paulick Report in August 2016. In recent weeks, trainers and bloodstock agents in California, Kentucky and Arkansas confirmed they have been contacted by the individual. The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association posted what it called a “scam alert” on its Facebook page.

The caller, who familiarizes himself with the trainer or bloodstock agent’s successes, claims to represent a wealthy businessman or member of the royal family in Abu Dhabi or Brunei (in 2016, the scam involved someone from India purportedly interested in buying horses). The wealthy individual cited in each case is real but is completely unaware their name is being used in an attempted con.

The caller, who uses different names and spoofs different telephone caller ID numbers, says the businessman would like to set up a call with the trainer or agent to discuss the purchase of specific horses, either in training or public auction. In some cases the call has taken place with a second individual pretending to be the prospective horse buyer, who also shows some knowledge of the trainer or agent’s career and successes.

The follow-up from the original caller specifies that the trainer or agent set up encrypted communications software because of privacy concerns with the buyer. While some would-be victims expressed worry that the communications network would have hacked into their computers and stolen sensitive information, the scam seems more likely to revolve around the $800 to $1,000 the original caller said would need to be wired to a Wells Fargo bank account to purchase the software.

As one trainer said, “That’s a lot of work for someone to steal $1,000.”

Brian Hernandez Jr. Hits Churchill Downs Milestone

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Brian Hernandez Jr. registered his 500th Churchill Downs win on Thanksgiving Day

 

Louisiana native, Brian Hernandez Jr. became the 14th jockey in Churchill Downs history to ride 500 winners at the home of the Kentucky Derby when the 32-year-old won the seventh race on Thanksgiving Day aboard Rock Shandy for trainer Jordan Blair.

“It’s great to have my family here with me for this,” Hernandez said. “I’m thankful for all of the trainers and owners who have supported me throughout my career so far.”

Hernandez, who began riding professionally in 2003, won his first race at Churchill Downs aboard Machine to Tower on May 27, 2004. Overall, the native of Lafayette, La., has won 1,729 races and his mounts have amassed more than $63.8 million from 12,629 starts during a 15-year riding career.

He won the Eclipse Award in 2004 as the nation’s champion apprentice jockey. In 2012, Hernandez won the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita aboard Fort Larned for his biggest career win.

Former United Tote Employee Charged With Extortion; Allegedly Stole Social Security Numbers

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A Kentucky man who formerly worked for Churchill Downs Inc.’s bet processing company, United Tote, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on extortion charges.

Ethan C. Fey has been charged in United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in Louisville with one count of Hobbs Act extortion and one count of possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices.

According to an indictment unsealed when he was taken into custody on Aug. 30, Fey allegedly had “previously stolen personally-identifying information” of a company’s clients and “on or about June 5, 2017, he threatened to release that information unless the company paid Ethan C. Fey 50 bitcoins.”

Count two of the indictment alleges Fey, between June 8, 2016, and June 5, 2017, “knowingly and with intent to defraud, possessed more than 15 Social Security numbers of different customers of a company, operating in interstate commerce, said possession affecting interstate commerce, in that Ethan C. Fey threatened to release the Social Security numbers to the public unless the company agreed to pay Ethan C. Fey 50 bitcoins.”

The name of the company was not disclosed in the indictment. The alleged crimes took place in Louisville, Ky.

Bitcoins are a digital currency described by Bloomberg as the “currency of choice for hacker blackmailers who steal huge amounts of sensitive data.” Fifty bitcoins is currently estimated to be worth approximately $230,000.

According to his profile on the Linkedin social network, Fey was a senior operator for United Tote from July 2014 until sometime in 2016. Prior to that, the profile says, he was a United Tote operator at Churchill Downs-owned Fair Grounds in Louisiana from October 2012-July 2014; a United Tote hub operator from September 2010-October 2012; and a member of the Churchill Downs simulcast department from 2004-2010. Churchill Downs Inc. acquired United Tote in 2010 as part of a deal to purchase the advance deposit wagering company Youbet.com.

An alumni page for Colorado Technical University in Colorado Springs, Colo., also lists Fey as having worked for United Tote. His Linkedin profile says he earned a bachelor’s degree at Colorado Technical University in cyber/computer forensics and counterterrorism.

In addition to United Tote, Fair Grounds and Churchill Downs racetrack, Churchill Downs Inc. owns the TwinSpires advance deposit wagering company – which is a customer of United Tote – and the online gaming company Big Fish Games. TwinSpires previously suffered a security breach in 2012. Big Fish Games reported in 2015 that some customer payment information may have been intercepted after malware was installed on certain pages.

Fey was released on his own recognizance after an Aug. 30 court appearance in which he pleaded not guilty. A trial has been scheduled for Nov. 6, 2017, with Judge David J. Hale presiding. Fey faces up to 20 years in prison on count one and 10 years on count two with fines up to $250,000 on each count.

Study Of Inflammatory Markers Leaves Researchers With More Questions About Predicting Racehorse Injury

by | 09.14.2017 | 6:59pm

For years now, researchers have been searching for some kind of agent detectable in horses’ blood to warn them of an impending injury. Research presented by Dr. David Horohov of the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky at a recent Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council meeting shows the quest has continued to be a challenging one.

“The theory has been advanced that in fact, visible injury is a result of chronic accumulation of damage that exceeds the healing capacity of the tissue. And indeed, the whole process of conditioning an animal is actually one of breaking down and rebuilding tissue so that it’s stronger,” said Horohov. “If we could identify techniques to tell when that process has become imbalanced, where there is weakness rather than strength, we could begin identifying horses in advance.”

Initially, Horohov said scientists wanted to look for cytokines – biological message-carriers – associated with damage to bone and cartilage. This proved challenging because bones are constantly in a cycle of breaking down and building up in response to exercise. It is the remodeling process that prepares an equine (or human) skeleton to hold up to future impacts, based on past experience. This approach also did not seem sensitive enough and might miss other types of stress in the body, so Horohov set out to study the behavior of cytokines related to inflammation.

These messengers would be aware the body was recruiting inflammatory cells to deal with an injury but would not be involved in the inflammatory process themselves. Theoretically, he thought, low levels of inflammatory cytokines should indicate some degree of normal response to training, while high amounts might be a sign the body was not adjusting to the stress of training, increasing the likelihood of an accident.

Between 2015 and 2016, Horohov and his team studied two groups with a total of 130 horses over two years: one group, scattered across different trainers, at Keeneland‘s synthetic training track, and another group on a lighter workout program (working on turf once per week) on a nearby farm. The results were somewhat surprising.

Immediately after exercise, horses typically have an increase in inflammatory biomarkers, which come back down over time and usually go below their original level – thought to be a sign the horses’ tissues were adjusting to exercise. Horohov’s group did find a difference between the horses at the track and those trained on the farm – over time, horses training on the track saw their base level inflammatory index increase, rather than decrease.

“To us, this raises more questions than it answers,” he said.

Horohov said it was impossible to tell whether the increase in inflammatory index was a sign of an increased risk for injury, or if it was simply a normal response to training. Both groups of horses had just begun the process of breezing.

Horohov also hopes in the future, the study of inflammatory cytokines could be finessed to predict specific types of injuries.

Besides the somewhat puzzling results, studies like this one are challenging because in order to get a group of horses in a true racetrack setting, scientists must give up control of the horses’ environments. Across the group of 130 horses studied, many were with different trainers and different feeding programs (including different supplements); those on the farm were getting turnout, while those at the track were not. It’s difficult to draw broad conclusions when variables like these place horses in mini sub-groups.

“One of the problems, too, about sampling horses is they leave,” said Horohov. “You get something you’re really interested in, you go back and they’re not there anymore.”

Horohov estimated about 25 percent of horses came up with some kind of lameness during the study period, but they were split between so many different trainers and programs it was impossible to say with certainty whether their cytokine levels rose before their lamenesses, or when.

From here, Horohov’s team hopes to expand the study to try to minimize some of these variables and to see whether an exaggerated inflammatory response does, indeed, preempt injuries.

Study Suggests Need For Another Revision To Uniform Drug Guidelines

by | 09.14.2017 | 12:48pm

Recommended withdrawal guidelines for detomidine, commercially known as Dormosedan, may face review after a recent study suggested horses could test positive while adhering to the guidelines. The current guideline from the Racing Medication Testing Consortium suggests the threshold for a positive be set at 2ng/ml in urine and 1 ngl/ml in blood, with the recommended withdrawal for a 5 mg intravenous dose set at 48 hours.

Detomidine is a relatively short-acting sedative with some analgesic properties and may be used to reduce stress during medical procedures or travel, or in hospital settings.

Recently, the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council funded a study to examine the behavior of a 20 mg dose (given intravenously or intramuscularly), which some veterinarians say is also used in the field, depending upon the situation.

For tests of the drug using a blood sample, a 20 mg dose was well below the recommended threshold by 48 hours post-administration; in some cases the drug was almost undetectable. In the case of urine tests for detomidine however, several samples were over the threshold at 48 hours.

 

 

Unfortunately, the study was designed to stop at 48 hours post-administration, and therefore did not shed light on whether extending the window to 72 hours would be sufficient to avoid accidental positive tests.

“The dose that was investigated initially was a 5 mg dose. A lot of our veterinarians use a 5 mg dose. Dr. [Andy] Roberts and some other veterinarians wanted to know if they could use a 20 mg dose. It’s going to give a bigger effect,” he said. “Very few of these substances that affect the central nervous system have a dose that’s fixed. It’s a dose range, and I think it’s a legitimate question on Dr. Roberts’ part about using that 20 mg dose.”

Sams, who is a member of the RMTC’s Scientific Advisory Committee, said these types of revisions are to be expected as more information comes to light about different drugs and their behavior in horses. Unfortunately, there is a disparity between the public’s thirst for uniform regulations and the amount of time (and money) it takes to complete studies like this one, which ultimately highlights the need for more research.

“The process was moving very slowly years ago and the RMTC came under enormous pressure to move forward and have thresholds for all of these substances that veterinarians had identified. The future of the RMTC, I think, was on the line at that point,” Sams remembered. “We made some less-than-optimal choices with regard to doses, but veterinarians were involved in every step of the way.”

Delta Downs: Funding Shortfall Could Mean Canceling Of Jackpot, Princess Stakes

by | 09.12.2017 | 8:54am

 

A decline in casino revenue has officials at Delta Downs considering eliminating several stakes races in October and November, including the track’s marquee event, the Delta Downs Jackpot.

The Daily Racing Form reports that much of the facility’s business comes from the Houston area, which was hit by Hurricane Harvey. That has resulted in a decline in casino revenue, which helps fund purses at the track.

According to the Form, Delta’s vice president and general manager Steve Kuypers sent a letter dated Sept. 7 to Louisiana Racing Commission chairman Bob Wright requesting that the LRC approve a request to eliminate eight open stakes races worth a total of $2.3 million.

“The impact of Hurricane Harvey to the people of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana is having a significant effect on slot revenue and subsequently the track’s purse funds,” Kuypers said in the letter.

Kuypers added, “It is important that we support the local horsemen that fill our overnight races and this action will allow us to do that.”

Read more in the Daily Racing Form

Jockeys Melancon, Batista Organize Relief Supplies For Hurricane Harvey Refugees

by Paulick Report Staff

Jockeys Gerard Melancon and Alexis Batista worked together to organize a relief effort for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey last week, according to the Daily Racing Form. The riders gathered more than 50 cases of water and a stash of diapers to a shelter in Lake Charles, La. which has taken in Texas residents fleeing the flooding from the storm.

Melancon said the project was a combined effort of riders at Louisiana Downs, along with their valets and chaplain Dwight Brown.

Also on Wednesday, NTRA Charities announced it would donate more than $5,000 to the Penn National Gaming Foundation, which is helping Sam Houston Race Park employees affected by the storm.

The ‘Cajun Connection’ At Del Mar Has Tales To Tell

by | 08.11.2017 | 1:27pm

Kent Desormeaux, Joe Talamo, and Jamie Theriot

Cajun: An ethnic group mainly living in southwest Louisiana consisting of the descendants of Acadian exiles (French-speakers from what now is Nova Scotia) who have exerted an enormous impact on the state’s music, food and culture – Wikipedia

Anyone who follows U.S. racing knows about the Cajuns and their imprint on the game. The horsemen who have come out of the bayou and swamp areas centering on Lafayette, Louisiana have dominated racing in that state and rippled out to touch racing locales all around the country.

This is especially so when it comes to race riders. For many years now the phrase “Cajun jockey” has been comparable to, say, Kenyan marathon runner or Canadian hockey player. Ten times the Kentucky Derby has been won by a Cajun rider. Five times racing’s Hall of Fame has beckoned a Cajun jock.

A quick scan of a general Cajun jockey roster would include names such as Albarado, Ardoin, Avant, Bernis, Borel, Borque, Broussard, Carmouche, Delahoussaye, Delhomme, Guerin, Guidry, Hernandez, Jr., Lanerie, Meche, Melancon, Perret, Perrodin, Romero, Sellers and Sibille.

You can add three more names to that list and take them right off this year’s Del Mar jockey roster: Kent Desormeaux, Jamie Theriot and Joe Talamo.

Befitting their Cajun roots, their names have a lovely rhythm to them: “De-sor-mo,” “Therry-O” and “Tal-ah-mo.” If you mix in some fiddle, concertina and accordion, no doubt you could come up with a Zydeco tune that would have folks up and dancing.

And what the trio of Del Mar horsebackers has in common is starting their schooling – even before they started their careers — in “the bushes,” the series of backwoods, unregulated and unshackled racetracks that flourished in southwest Louisiana from roughly the 1930s through the 1990s. They often were “bullrings” with rails (mostly) all the way around and starting gates for the beginnings; they sometimes were simply straights with rails down the middle for lanes and cow pastures for pulling up in. They featured mostly four-legged equines, primarily Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, though mules, Appaloosas, Shetland ponies, dogs and other sorts of four- and two-legged beasts and men that were capable of being matched up and bet on were occasionally employed.

They were all wild and wooly tailgating heavens filled with crawfish, gumbo, bar-b-q and other sorts of Louisiana treats cooking away; kingdoms filled with six-packs and kegs; man-on-man betting parlors (“I got $20 on the 2, you can have all the rest.”) where serious money regularly changed hands, and, in Cajun fashion, the tracks often were family-run. Besides all that, they also were among the great training grounds in all of sports.

Desormeaux, one of the most successful jockeys of our time who can brag of Hall of Fame credentials, three trips to the winner’s circle in the Kentucky Derby and nearly 6,000 winning rides on “legitimate” racetracks, just lights up in a smile when he’s asked about “the bushes.”

“Oh, man,” says the 47-year-old native of Maurice (10 miles southwest of Lafayette), “you’re talking about some seriously good memories now. I’ve got some stories to tell about those days.”

Theriot, 38, hails from Breaux Bridge (nine miles northeast of Lafayette), and took to riding in match races very early. “I was eight years old when I rode in my first match,” the rider says with a straight face. Yes, he said eight.

Shadwell Farm

Talamo, the 27-year-old “kid” of the bunch, was born in Marrero, just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, which is about 135 miles east of Lafayette. “But I’ve got Cajun on both sides of the family,” he says. “Cajun and Sicilian. How scary is that?”

Though they came at it in different decades, they all went to Bushes School – Desormeaux when “bush racing” was in full swing; Theriot right at the very end of the “bush” era, and Talamo when one of the more famous “bush” tracks – the Quarter Pole in Rayne (18 miles west of Lafayette) – was reopened as a training center in the early 2000s and they ran “schooling” races for teenagers who wanted to be race riders.

“You know,” notes the vibrant Desormeaux, “I rode about a hundred races in ‘the bushes’ before I rode my first ‘real’ race. When I first rode at Evangeline (Downs in Opelousas, about 25 miles north of Lafayette) in 1986, they gave me a 10-pound bug. I thought I was stealing. I was full of confidence and knew I was ready.”

It didn’t take him long to show it. He went from Evangeline to Louisiana Downs to Maryland and a run of riding victories that have yet to be matched. He won 450 races in 1987 (and an Eclipse as the nation’s top apprentice); 474 races in 1988, and 598 in 1989 (and another Eclipse as the nation’s leading rider). His 598 victories in a year is the best ever recorded.

But back to Theriot and riding match races at the age of eight. For real?

“You bet,” says the long (5′ 7”) and wiry reinsman who has won nearly 2,500 races in 22 years in the “big time.” “My daddy (Harold) was a trainer; had about 60 head of horses back then. I first learned on Quarter Horses; really liked riding them. First match race I rode was on a Quarter. I was eight and weighed about 45 pounds at the time; they put me in against an adult. I beat him.”

That was the beginning; then it became a regular happening. “Every weekend,” Theriot recalled. “So much fun; so exciting looking forward to it. Three hundred or four hundred people yelling, shouting, cheering. The environment was so special. The people; the food. Bar-b-q. Oh, yes. It was all so good.”

Especially for a third grader.

Talamo wasn’t riding match races at eight, but he grew up with a horse in his backyard and was up on horseback not long after he learned to walk. He was galloping horses at 12 and riding “schooling” races at 14.

“I was 14 and riding in races at the Quarter Pole against Cody Meche, Randall Toups and David Borque,” he remembered. “We were all 14 or 15. I won a race on a horse named Marie Laveau (New Orleans’ famous voodoo queen). Boy, that was special. I was wearing a pair of jockey pants that Robby Albarado gave me. My father bet $20 to win on me. I got a roast beef po’ boy (sandwich). I felt like I’d won a Triple Crown race.”

Talamo had just finished 10th grade and got his jockey license and spent the summer riding at Louisiana Downs (in Bossier City, about 200 miles northwest of Lafayette). He’d promised his folks he was going back to school in September (“One of the great selling jobs of all time,” he says.) But he got hot at the end of the meet, rode that on into a hotter streak that saw him win the riding title (over Albarado) at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and get a call from Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel to come ride in California. More than 1,700 wins and $92-million in purses later, he’s a Southern California fixture.

One of Desormeaux’s favorite “bushes” tales deals with a mostly Quarter Horse named Skunk Em Up.

“Had some Appaloosa in him and the spots came up over his knee, so they couldn’t call him a Quarter Horse,” he reminisced. “But he was fast, really fast. I weighed about 90 pounds at the time and his trainer, Dale White, had me ride him in match races in Louisiana. He was down for good money — $5,000, $10,000. We went three times, won all three. Then he set up another match in Mississippi. I rode in the van in the back with the horse, feeding him hay all the way over. We went like a shot there, too, and won that one. That was it, though. The game was up. Nobody would take him on after that.”

Among the great stories coming out of “the bushes” were sagas of “catch weight” races (you can put anyone or anything you want on a horse’s back – the lighter, obviously, the better). A classic example was when a chicken was tied on as the “rider,” an extraordinary bit of horsemanship made famous by a bit in the 1978 movie “Casey’s Shadow.”

Did our trio ride in any chicken races?

Talamo did not, but the other two did.

“Oh, yeah,” said Desormeaux. “I rode against chickens. I even remember a match race where both horses had chickens on their back.”

Theriot did it just once. Who, he was asked, won?

The rider lowered his head, then fessed up: “The chicken.”

For those so inclined, days in “the bushes” and fine tales of Cajun racing are well told in the 2008 book “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” by New York-based turf writer Ed McNamara. It’s a good read with a fine feel for a special place and its special people for anyone wanting to learn more about a most colorful and unique subject.

For those wanting an insightful thought from a man who was right in the middle of it all, here’s this from Desormeaux:

“You know, until Chris (Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron) started his jockey school in the last few years in Kentucky, this country really didn’t have a national one. Lots of other places do – Puerto Rico, Panama, South America. That’s a big advantage for a young rider. But in Louisiana – in “the bushes” – we had our own riding school. We learned lots of lessons and had lots of fun. In a lot of ways, you couldn’t have asked for a better one.”