Big Brown's Owners Prepare to Open Belmont Equine Hospital

At the beginning of 2008, International Equine Acquisitions Holdings (IEAH) anticipated that its biggest event of the year would be the opening of the $17-million equine medical facility it built and funded a stone's throw outside the gates of Belmont Park. Little did IEAH know that a horse owned by the partnership would steal the thunder by winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.

Big Brown unquestionably has the biggest story behind the IEAH team, but not to be lost in the hoopla leading up to the Belmont Stakes and the colt's stunning loss in the final leg of the Triple Crown is IEAH's jewel of a medical facility, scheduled to officially open early in September.

"We thought the highlight of 2008 for IEAH would be the opening of the Ruffian Equine Medical Center," said Richard J. Schiavo, IEAH's co-president and co-CEO. "I like to joke and tell people that 'this good horse came along and got in the way.' It's a good problem to have."

IEAH may have had a letdown with Big Brown, but its $17-million equine medical facility will give New York horsemen a lift
The Ruffian Equine Medical Center, located on Plainfield Avenue in Elmont, N.Y., promises to be a state-of-the-art facility, the scope of which is the first of its kind in the metropolitan New York area. No expense was spared in the creation of the 23,000-square-foot medical center that will serve as both a treatment and diagnostic center.

The facility, which has stalls for 29 horses, will offer the latest in veterinary technology. Two expansive surgical suites, a nuclear scintigraphy machine to pinpoint lameness issues, a treadmill endoscopy that will have the ability to diagnose breathing ailments, and a pharmacy are just a few of the medical center's nifty features.

Some of the most prominent veterinarians in the country are associated with the medical center, including Patty Hogan, VMD, Dipl. ACVS, who gained national recognition for saving the life of 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner and champion Smarty Jones when he cracked his skull in a starting gate mishap in a schooling session as a 2-year-old. James C. Hunt, DVM, one of the most sought-after racetrack vets in New York, is the owner of the practice that will officially operate the medical center.

Hogan, 43, will be the head surgeon, and she will be joined by Emma Adam, BVetMed, MRCVS, who is board-certified in both surgery and medicine, which Hogan said "is rare because of the length of time it takes to complete residencies for both disciplines." Another surgeon, a throat specialist, will be announced shortly. Hogan said it is important for horsemen to know that if they want to bring another vet in to do surgery, because they felt "someone else was best for the job," the facility would accommodate such a request.

IEAH’s Richard Schiavo overlooks construction of the Ruffian Equine Medical Center, located across Plainfield Avenue from Belmont Park

IEAH’s Richard Schiavo overlooks construction of the Ruffian Equine Medical Center, located across Plainfield Avenue from Belmont Park.

IEAH, which broke ground on the project during the summer of 2007, was savvy to recognize the need for such a facility in the immediate area of Aqueduct and Belmont. Currently, horses on the grounds of Aqueduct and Belmont who require surgery, or involved diagnostic evaluation, are typically sent to either the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., a three-hour drive from Belmont, or to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., a five-hour commute, or even farther afield to Kentucky. Besides the approximately 500 horses stabled at Aqueduct, which is located eight miles west of the equine center, and the 2,200 horses at Belmont, there is a large community of show and pleasure horses on Long Island, and the facility will be available to them as well.

Trainer Christophe Clement, who uses Hunt as his primary vet, said for years he hoped an equine medical center would be built near Belmont. When the plans were approved, Hunt said Clement was one of the first people he approached with the blueprints.

"Why should we have to ship our horses hours away for a lameness exam or to go on a treadmill?" Clement asked. "This is much more practical, and the savings involved (on shipping) are something owners will be happy about. It's cost effective for owners. When you can get a diagnostic test done immediately, it has to be very popular."

Belmont's proximity to the medical facility should prove handy for minor surgeries, such as arthroscopic procedures where the amount of anesthetic used only knocks a horse out for a short period of time.

"They could be back in their stalls the same day by just walking across the street," Hogan said. "I love to see horses back (quickly) in their own environments. It's like outpatient surgery for humans."

The center will not be able to handle colic cases or what Hunt terms, "very, very sick horse procedures." During colic surgery, there is a risk of contaminants entering the air, such as E. coli and Salmonella. Since there are only two surgical suites, located in close proximity to each other, it would be unsafe to conduct colic surgeries in the same location as other surgical procedures. Horses diagnosed as needing colic surgery will be referred to other facilities.

Hogan was involved in the early stages of the equine center's development, when IEAH tabbed her to help with the design of the building. Hogan had assisted in the design of the New Jersey Equine Medical Center, a facility she previously worked at before opening her own practice on her farm in Central New Jersey. Hogan will maintain her own practice and fly in her husband's helicopter between New Jersey and New York.

Hogan said IEAH's dedication is one of things that attracted her to the project.

"When I am asked by them what I need, they have never said, 'How much will it cost us?' " Hogan said. "Their commitment has been strong, and they are not sparing any expense."

Hunt, 55, said it will be his job to keep the center "in the black."

"I will tend to administrative details like the budget, and keeping the doctors and the board of governors (IEAH) happy," Hunt said.

Hunt said there will be no conflict of interest involving IEAH as horse owners and as the proprietors of a medical center, where their competition will seek treatment and diagnosis.

"They won't be involved in the daily operation, or privy to our clients," Hunt said. "There is no reason for them to have contact with anybody but me. I want to convey to horsemen that what goes on at the center is strictly confidential."

The Ruffian Equine Medical Center will officially open in September, but a dry run of the facility, where the mechanics of the operation can be tested, will take place before then.

"You know, we're going to be throwing a completely new staff together, so I would like to bring in some racetrack ponies beforehand so we can work as a team," Hunt said. "I'm not interested in a huge caseload at first. A small caseload will let everyone know their role. I want to start slow, let it grow."

Originally published in The Blood-Horse.  

About the Author

Karen M. Johnson

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