Effin Hives: The Santa Anita Handicap in Review

Were horseplayers ripped off last Saturday in the Santa Anita Handicap? More important, did a horse start in a race that should never have been allowed to pass a vet inspection?
Simple answer: Maybe. Maybe not.
The case is Effinex, the top choice to win The Santa Anita Handicap and the problem was hives. Really bad ones. Effinex, an East Coast invader trained by an incredible horseman, Jimmy Jerkens, finished third in the Big Cap on Saturday, but it was what happened prior to the race that was the issue.
Renowned equine photographer Barbara Livingston of the Daily Racing Form has an amazing picture of Effinex in the saddling ring on Big Cap day here:
EffinexFrom a physicality standpoint, I observed another strange thing about Effinex: he urinated in the saddling ring. Think about it: how many times have you seen a horse pee while all saddled up on the way to the race. Water is withheld from horses hours before a race, to the point where one old school way to insure a poor performance in a horse was to let it drink all it wanted before it ran. Let me be clear — I’m not saying that happened in this case in any way.
Here are some facts about hives in horses. You decide what to make of them in Effinex’s case:
1) Hives (medical term urticaria) – very similar to the hives humans get from an internal or external allergen. But there are some big differences in how it is experienced in horses, at least from what we can tell. It doesn’t seem to be as itchy for horses as it is for us, at least not usually, and Effinex didn’t show any signs of severe itching. He wasn’t trying to desperately scratch at thehives the way you and I might.
2) Causes – very similar in humans and horses. Stress (I’ve heard that Effinex has had hives before), environmental allergies, a new medication, a new allergen in the air — don’t forget, he was coming from the East Coast to the West Coast. New environment, new allergens, stress.
3) Treatments – very similar in humans and horses. Benadryl might be used. I’m not sure if anything was used on Effinex. But it still seems strange to me that he urinated in the saddling ring. Super stressed out? Quite possibly. But looking at pictures of him in the Clark and other races, there is no evidence of a major hives outbreak before. In any event, on that day, for physicality handicappers, he was an automatic toss, and Melatonin ended up wiring the field in a big upset.
Whatever the case is with Effinex, we may never know if this horse should have run or not. Although he wasn’t cleared to run until two hours before the race, he was cleared. And then as a beaten favorite he was tested after the race, and there were no red flags from his urine test.
Bottom line: We can’t get inside the horse’s head, but should the vets have scratched him as a compromised horse, in the interests of the betting public and especially in the interest of the horse?
What do you think?
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Barbara Bowley
Top Female Contest Player/Physicality Handicapper twitter.com/portiasophia Barbara Bowley aka "Sophia" is the only female DerbyWars $100K game winner and one of the most successful women in the field. She recently won DW's $50k game, making her the only person to ever win both their $100k and $50k games. Her experience growing up around horses and natural intuitive style have made her successful at reading a horse’s psychological state, physical suitability and readiness to win.