Thoroughbred Stallion Jet Master Dead

Acclaimed champion South African Thoroughbred racing sire Jet Master died Tuesday (Nov. 15) from complications from surgery. The 17-year-old stallion had undergone implant surgery to relieve cervical spinal cord pressure three days earlier (Nov. 12), according to chief operating surgeon, and following the procedure his prognosis had been "guarded to good."


Jet Master

Barrie Grant, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, independent surgical consultant specializing in "wobblers" (ataxic horses) in Bonsall, Calif., had flown out to Western Cape, South Africa, to lead the surgical team that performed the cervical fusion surgery on Jet Master using a "Seattle Slew" implant, the more technologically advanced version of the Bagby basket implant (a small basketlike device for fusing the vertebrae).

Jet Master's condition took a sudden turn for the worse the day after surgery following a neurologic reaction and a subsequent fall in the stall, and two days later he just "stopped breathing," Grant said. Jet Master's owners, Henry and Patricia Devine, elected to not have a postmortem examination performed.

"He was up and eating Sunday morning and then suddenly started acting like he was having a seizure, kicking his hind legs up to his belly, and because he’s ataxic he just fell down," said Grant, who was accompanied in the operating room by confrere Olivier Lepage, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECVS, from the University of Lyon, France, and his assistant Jan Sargent-Beach. "I thought he fractured the surgical site, but the X rays we took couldn't confirm that."

After his fall veterinarians placed Jet Master in a sling, and he was able to bear weight but acted "depressed and somnolent, as though he were in a coma," Grant said. Telephone consultants with worldwide experts including Steve Reed, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky.; Andy Durham, BSc, BVSc, CertEP, DEIM, Dipl. ECEIM, MRCVS, of the Liphook Equine Hospital in Hampshire, UK; and Ian (Joe) Mayhew, BVSc, PhD, FRCVS, Dipl. ACVIM, ECVN, of the Massey University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Palmerston North, New Zealand, led to various hypotheses, including the possibility of an embolus (a mass of clotted blood or other material) or brain stem disease. "We were racking our brains," he said. "It was very hard to sort out. But in the end, we'll never know."  

Jet Master had severe (grade 4 out of 5) ataxia caused by arthritic changes compressing his spinal cord at C6-C7, according to Grant. Although Jet Master had contracted West Nile virus earlier in the year and had suffered ataxia as a consequence, the horse had appeared to make a complete recovery, and the current bout of ataxia was unrelated to the disease. "It's a common area for arthritis in older stallions," Grant said, adding that in addition to radiographs (X rays) he had a myelogram (which dye is injected into the spinal canal and radiographs taken)performed prior to surgery to determine the sites of compression. "His changes were pretty classic. He was an older horse; he’d done work as a racehorse and as a breeding stallion, and he had a great big neck on him. All those things make for having arthritis in the bottom part of the neck," he added.

Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew underwent a nearly identical procedure, also led by Grant, in March 2000, at age 26. Seattle Slew went on to continue his breeding career and died at age 28 from unrelated causes.

"Jet Master was a really nice horse, and everyone put a lot of effort into saving him," Grant said. "Like a lot of classy horses, he just tended to make the people around him look good."

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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