Abby Adsit held it together.
Her filly, unfortunately, could not.
Saratoga Race Course patrons near the mouth of the horse path leading onto the track from the paddock were front and center for a bizarre, heart-wrenching scene on Wednesday.
The 3-year-old filly Lavender Road, scratched from the seventh race, tried to get to her feet 10 times, and 10 times teetered and crumbled back to the ground.
Track vets, outriders and Adsit, the filly’s trainer for most her life, worked determinedly to coax her to her feet.
Each attempt failed, so finally Lavender Road was sedated and anaesthetized, dragged onto a van and taken to the hospital.
Twenty-four hours later, she was dead, of a broken neck that wasn’t revealed until a second round of X-rays was taken on Thursday.
Besides the lingering image of Lavender Road repeatedly scrambling to her feet, offering tiny fool’s gold nuggets of hope, I’ll always remember how composed Adsit, just five years removed from Union College graduation, remained throughout the ordeal.
These racehorses are merely a commodity to many people, a means to an end. It’s a sport, which means it’s built for our enjoyment, and in some cases, enrichment. Who ya got?
Adsit is the opposite of that, someone who has a deep devotion and affection for the animals in her care. That made it all the more remarkable that she was able to stayed poised.
Yes, she was bred for professionalism, competitiveness and horsemanship, the daughter of long-time harness trainer Eric Adsit.
But this was her baby, thrashing around in a public spectacle that seemed to have no end, a whole racetrack brought to a standstill by one pathetic picture of futility.
“It’s like watching your kid out there, going through a seizure more or less,” Adsit said. “I bought that filly as a baby and raised her, and here’s a couple pictures . . .”
This was Thursday morning, hours before Dr. Travis Tull at the Saratoga branch of the Lexington, Ky.-based Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital would recommend the only recourse, that Lavender Road be euthanized because of the inoperable C-7 vertebra in her neck.
I interviewed Adsit for the first time at the beginning of the meet, as a potential feature about the girl from Albany who bounced around tracks all over the northeast as a kid, was galloping racehorses at 16 and graduated from Saratoga Springs High School before getting her B.A. in English from Union.
“It’s funny, I go from reading Shakespeare to reading the Daily Racing Form, Ragozin sheets and Thorograph,” she said with a laugh that day.
On Thursday morning, she was still hopeful that Lavender Road, owned by Kallenberg Farms, would be OK.
The filly was in stable condition on Wednesday evening, receiving fluids and medicine at Rood & Riddle, but still pretty much out of it.
Jockey Junior Alvarado, who rode Lavender Road to a win in her previous start, noticed something funky about her warmup for the seventh race, and asked NYRA chief examining vet Dr. Anthony Verderosa to take a look. He called for the scratch.
“She had all the symptoms of a heatstroke [after scratching], but she hadn’t run,” Verderosa said. “But something was going on with her, because she wasn’t traveling 100 percent before the race, that’s why I scratched her. And the jockey knew her and said she was just choppy and short, so maybe something was going on with her already.”
It went downhill from there.
On the walk back to Adsit’s barn, Lavender Road collapsed onto her side for reasons that are unknown.
The whole episode perhaps could have ended without catastrophe, but Lavender Road had the misfortune of injuring herself when she sprang to her feet, rearing and falling over to hit her head on a padded section of rail and fence on the corner of the horse path and track rail.
At that point, she spilled back onto the track in front of the At the Rail Pavilion near the end of the clubhouse apron. The gathering crowd urged her to “Stay up, stay up,” only to groan each time she fell back down.
Lavender Road favored her right front leg and never seemed comfortable trying to stand, bailing out on that idea after a few seconds each time.
Adsit calmly helped in any way she could, while her insides were being ripped apart.
“You compartmentalize your emotions,” she said. “The biggest thing was to get her out of that environment. They were trying to let the horse pull herself through it, given the medicine and fluids that were given to her. Everyone’s making split-second decisions, and no one realized the severity of the head [neck] trauma. Could it [sedation] have been done earlier? Sure. But you’re taught to always let the horse pull herself through, given the medicine.
“All my horses are my kids. To have her at such a young age . . . she’s my world.”