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Als Hammered’s Amazing Comeback

Published: September 12, 2014 2:17 pm ET

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If their elimination heat was an indication of things to come, then Saturday’s showdown between Als Hammered and Forty Silky in the $112,000 Tony Maurello Stake at Balmoral Park should be a real heater.

Last week, the two Illinois-bred brutes battled it out in a torrid frenzy that saw the Bob Phillips-trained Als Hammered prevail by one and a half lengths in 1:49.1 over the John Prentice-harnessed Fort Silky.

Purchased by Phillips for a mere $2,000 at the 2010 Illini Sale, Als Hammered has $426,627 in career earnings with a mark of 1:48.4 taken at age three, en route to winning the $178,000 Langley Memorial on Super Night 2012 by nine and a half lengths. He was also a solid third in the $241,000 Orange & Blue on Super Night 2011 as a freshman.

Now five, the gelded son of Droppinthehammer had an abbreviated schedule in 2013, after sustaining an injury in a February 2 race. Als Hammered damaged his superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) and annular ligament of his left front leg. This injury is catastrophic to a racehorse, with recovery taking up to 18 months, and the tendons rarely return to their original functional elasticity.

“The tendon was devastated; it looked like a shotgun hit it,” remarked Dr. Greg Skelton, Bob’s veterinarian. “Als Hammered was a step away from a total breakdown.”

“We ultra-sounded it, and Greg suggested we cut the annular ligament,” Bob, 69, explained. “Al’s leg was the same size as his knee all the way to the ankle.”

“We thought it was best to cut the annular ligament, which alleviates pressure on the tendon sheath,” Greg stressed. “If you don’t cut that, the horse might get sore because mechanically the tendon can’t move through to the ankle. Cutting removes restriction to the leg, allowing for more ease of movement.”

Greg also suggested injecting the leg with a series of PRP (platelet-rich plasma) treatments.

“Time was my first thought for recovery, and I thought using PRP would heal it better,” Greg acknowledged.

To prepare for a PRP treatment, a veterinarian takes blood plasma, an anti-coagulant, and a bit of white surface from red blood cells known as the ‘buffy coat,’ (which has DNA and healing proteins, white cells and platelets)—all from the injured horse. Via ultrasound, the vet injects a dose of PRP into the back of the leg, between the ligament and SDFT, inside and outside of the sheath.

“I did this twice a month for six months,” Greg confirmed. “By concentrating the plasma, the horse’s own system heals the leg. I told Bob not to hold his breath; that this was a pretty big injury.”

“This treatment was amazing,” Bob said. “After three months the leg was nearly back to normal. Nobody could believe how much it had sucked down.”

Nearly ten months later, Als Hammered scored a winning 1:54.2 qualifier at Balmoral. On November 16 he posted a 1:55.3 victory; followed by a 1:51.2 win on November 23; a December 7 win in a seasonal best 1:50.3; and a December 14 triumph in 1:51.3. In just six starts he earned $31,395, pushing his 2013 earnings to $40,915.

“I give a lot of credit to Bob,” Greg offered. “There are not many trainers who would walk a horse themselves and take the time with him Bob has. Amazingly, this horse had no other injections – just the PRP treatments. The horse was a model patient and Bob was patient in the recovery process.”

This year, Als Hammered has added another $117,400 to his bankroll, with 13 wins in 19 tries.

“By far, he’s the best horse I’ve ever had,” Bob said. “I think he’s better now than before the injury. You can train horses all your life and never get one like him.”

The indomitable Fort Silky, who has $668,100 in career earnings, with 47 wins, 44 seconds and 28 thirds from 197 lifetime starts for owners John Prentice and Neva Jane Ikeler, will try to stop Als Hammered from garnering another Super Night triumph.

The eight-year-old son of Ft Apache Hanover won the $25,000 Egyptian Stake on August 29 at Maywood, stopping the timer in 1:50.4, just two-fifths of a second off the half-miler’s track record, prior to his Maurello elim last week. A starter in the Maurello for the past three years, he’ll be looking for his first Super Night Crown tonight.

(Balmoral Park)

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