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Setback For Wakizashi Hanover

Published: May 1, 2016 12:35 pm ET

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As the older pacing group starts to hit the racetrack and make headlines, one of the horses expected to make a major splash in that group will have his debut pushed back...if he makes it at all.

Wakizashi Hanover, the 2015 Pepsi North America Cup and O'Brien Award winner, is set to start back into training on Monday after undergoing surgery in early April.

Trainer Joann Looney-King told Trot Insider that the four-year-old son of Dragon Again had been showing signs of some possible ailment as he closed out his sophomore season. His last chart line shows an eighth-place finish in the Matron -- the only start in his two seasons of racing where he failed to get a cheque.

"Obviously we knew something was wrong at the Matron, something really went wrong when he just as much as stopped," said Looney-King. "Up in Canada for the Breeders Crown, we knew he wasn't right there either. We just thought he was kind of dull because he didn't put in a really good performance in the elimination or the final."

Scoping the horse couldn't pinpoint anything, but he didn't appear as he should either. He was turned out at Chris Coyle's Olive Branch Farm in North Carolina for what the connections hoped would be a fresh change of scenery before placing him into the hands of Gordon Corey to train down.

"Gordon trained him down to 2:12, the horse is making a terrible noise, it's not a roaring noise but there's obviously a really bad problem here," continued Looney-King. "Scoped him in North Carolina at Pinehurst, that vet didn't have much of a diagnosis other than something's really wrong here and I don't know if it can be fixed."

Enter renowned equine surgeon Dr. Patty Hogan. Wakizashi Hanover was sent to her for examination, where Dr. Hogan noticed a paralyzed flap in the horse's airway and recommended tieback surgery.

"We've had throat operations but we've never done tie-backs. She's good, and I kind of thought -- and so did my husband -- even if his performance is good training, you know this is bad. When we got him back here at our farm, we trained him in 2:02 and we could hear from one side of the track to the other."

Surgery took place on April 7, with Dr. Hogan considering the pacer an ideal candidate for this type of operation. The overall success rate of the surgery, however, is not perfect. Looney-King reports through Dr. Hogan that it's in the 60-70 percent range.

"We don't know if he'll come back, we don't know if he'll come back as good, you just don't know with throat operations. For me, it's just as bad it gets but there wasn't any choice."

The timing for Dr. Hogan's diagnosis might have made it easier to assess than the previous scopes, as a condition like this one is progressive and thus why it wasn't performed while the horse was turned out. Once the surgery was completed, Wakizashi Hanover was prescribed stall rest, hand walking and grazing for a week followed by light work in an Equicizer.

"He's been on the Equicizer, he's walked. The incision looks really good, he'll get scoped this weekend to see how things look and then he'll start back jogging on Monday. He's been out of training for three and a half weeks."

The depth of the older pacing ranks is serious as ever, with older pacing powerhouses Always B Miki and State Treasurer being joined by three of the four richest sophomores of 2015. Thus Looney-King and the connections are fully aware of the competition Wakizashi Hanover will be set to face this season.

"To be him, he has to come back as good as he was. And he has to come back better to race with these horses, these are monsters," confessed Looney-King. "We'll start knowing more a week or ten days from now because he'll jog for a week and I'm sure he's going to get turned [loose] and we're going to find something out.

"I know my horse can do it if he can breathe...just two-fifths of a second is the difference between whether a horse is a top class horse or whether he's even going to get a cheque. They just go so fast and those boys are so good. It's going to be an interesting year and I hope I can be a part of it."

The incision has healed perfectly and Looney-King commended Dr. Hogan on the work she did. The test will be welcome for the connections, and the horse. Looney-King notes that the four-year-old is feeling great and itching to get active.

"He's a lean, muscular horse and very a real athlete would be. He's a delight and we're just looking forward and hoping this works. She said that he was a perfect candidate for this and hopefully this is going to be OK."

Wakizashi Hanover's sophomore season was storybook for Team King and owners Tri County Stable of Nova Scotia. From 20 starts, the son of Dragon Again - Western Gesture tallied 11 wins and 17 top-three finishes with more than $1.26 million in earnings and a mark of 1:48 taken in the North America Cup at Mohawk.

"The owners have been so great, Bruce [Kennedy] always has a positive attitude, always a smile on his face no matter what. He and that group, they're good guys and it's a pleasure working with them, that's for sure."

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