MANNY’S LEGACY Part 1 of 2: Tribute to NYRA’s Preeminent Regulatory Veterinarian

February 21st, 2012 by Greg Beroza

            When he passed away on November 25, 2011 at age 91, Dr. Manuel Alan (Manny) Gilman left an exceptional legacy of ingenuity, integrity and dedication that has been of far-reaching benefit to Thoroughbred racing and veterinary regulatory medicine. 

Dr. Manny Gilman 1979 NYRA

            Dr. Gilman was credited with developing the system of identifying individual horses by photographing and examining the chestnuts on the inside of their legs, which have been compared in unique similarity to human fingerprints. In a Nov. 26, 2011 Gilman obituary, The Blood-Horsereported: “Gilman realized that the horny growths on the insides of a horse’s legs (vestiges of the toes of prehistoric horses), called chestnuts or ‘night eyes’ by native Americans, served as the homologue of the human fingerprint, and he developed the Universal Horse Identification System now used throughout Thoroughbred racing to prevent ‘ringers’ and assure that the horses on which the public was betting were in fact the same horses running in the race.”

1971 Chestnut ID System JGilman

             There seems to be some discrepancy as to who actually discovered the initial method. At the 1953 annual convention of the New York State Racing Commission, Dr. James J. Manning was cited as the originator of this identification system. Dr. Gilman began working in the New York Racing Association’s horse identification department in 1945. An article in the Daily Racing Form (June 30, 1972) mentions that the system was introduced in 1945, so it is highly possible that Dr. Gilman had a major role in its discovery and application. The timing was right. Most certainly, he was one of the first to implement it and advance its use.

            The lip tattoo system, another means of identification, began in 1947. The use of a distinctive “parallel cluster” lip-tattoo brand, designed and patented by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, provided what Dr. Theodore Hill, who went to work for Dr. Gilman in 1977 and is presently a Jockey Club steward for the New York Racing Association, described as “an effective, practical and economical method of horse identification available today.” Again, Dr. Gilman was on the scene in 1947 and may have had a hand in implementing this system. Dr. Gilman served in the U.S. Army during World War II where the lip tattoo system was first utilized for identifying horses. He was very close friends with the late Marshall Cassidy, Sr. who is credited with introducing the lip tattoo system to NYRA. Initially the Pinkerton security people oversaw the identification process. The lip tattoo was originally an additional, rather than a primary, means of identification. Its use is now standard protocol for all horses actively racing. 

11969 Dr.Gilman examines lip tattoo NYRA

            However, one noteworthy horse escaped identification when, in 1977, trainer Mark Gerard switched the identities of two horses before importing them from Uruguay: Cinzano, a four-year-old Uruguayan champion, and Lebon, a mediocre five-year-old. When “Lebon” won a grass race atBelmontParkat odds of 57-1, Gerard collected $80,440 on his bet. The fraud was uncovered when NYRA received an anonymous phone call from someone who recognized Cinzano in the winner’s circle. The findings were verified through dental examination. Gerard was found guilty of “fraudulent entries and practices in contests of speed” and sentenced to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Dr. Gilman testified at Gerard’s trial. Gerard’s sentence was later reduced on appeal.

            Dr. Gilman, who was NYRA’s chief examining veterinarian from 1950 to 1982,   believed that every horse should be given a standard pre-race examination. Prior to the 1980 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, an assistant trainer refused to allow Dr. Gilman to examine Spectacular Bid. Spectacular Bid is believed to have injured his left foreleg earlier that year in the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita Park, and again there now was heat in that same leg. While trainer Bud Delp was napping, an assistant trainer iced the leg in cold water and refused to let Gilman examine the horse. An hour later, Dr. Gilman was told he could not remove the horse from its stall or flex either of its forelegs. He subsequently informed the NYRA officials that he would not allow the horse to run, a decision that did not sit well with the trainer or the crowd. Finally, at 4 p.m. – less than 2 hours from post-time, Delp scratched the horse from the race and revealed that he had injured his left front ankle and would be retired. Had Spectacular Bid been allowed to compete, it is possible that he would have broken down in what was supposed to be his final race. As it was, he survived to become a breeding stallion. 

1966 Dr. Gilman pre-race exam @ Aqueduct NYRA

            The Spectacular Bid incident was more recently recalled when Life At Ten ran in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. The mare, then five years old, was listless in the paddock, and jockey John Velazquez told commentator Jerry Bailey on camera that she was not warming up normally; but neither he nor trainer Todd Pletcher reported it to any of the veterinarians on the scene. She finished last in a field of 11. Chief steward John Veitch overheard Velazquez’s comments and was criticized for not taking action. Veitch was subsequently declared “grossly negligent” for not checking further, both before and immediately after the race. Days later the mare reportedly ran a fever and had a high white blood cell count, suggesting infection. Velazquez was cited for several rule violations and agreed to pay a $10,000 fine. Both individuals were investigated for their actions, which may not have been intentional, but rather a breakdown in communications. John Veitch, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s Chief Steward was declared guilty and issued a one year suspension; which he is appealing. No inquiry or action was taken against trainer Todd Pletcher. New policies were subsequently introduced in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup to improve pre-race communications and protocol.

            Dr. Gilman saw many horses euthanized following racing injuries, and he fought hard to institute preventative measures by checking the horses’ legs, joints, temperature, respiration and soundness in moving before they went to the starting gate. In his early years at the track, some trainers were reluctant to remove the bandages from their horses’ legs or to jog them in front of him. He was gutsy, persistent, and often unpopular in his decisions involving powerfully influential trainers, owners and treating veterinarians. However, Manny’s main concerns were always for the horses, jockeys, betting public and integrity of racing. Dr. Ted Hill noted that in the 1960s and 1970s, Gilman was one of very few veterinarians personally conducting pre-race examinations. They are now a standard regulatory practice. 

1975-07.06 Dr. Gilman assists Ruffian after break down CGilman

            One of Gilman’s worst memories was the very public and newsworthy death of the great racing filly Ruffian, who fractured her right front leg in two places during her July 6, 1975 match race with Foolish Pleasure. He told Sports Illustrated that she was “so full of herself” and kept running and grinding the bones. Dr. Gilman was the first veterinarian to reach the filly after she broke down. Following surgery at Belmont Park, she struggled so hard coming out of the anesthesia that she re-injured herself and had to be humanely put down.

            Gilman was well aware of the fact that a horse’s breakdown often also has tragic consequences for its rider. On Oct. 13, 1988, Mike Venezia, 43, jumped off his horse’s left side when his mount, Mr. Walter K, broke his right front leg on the inner turf backstretch during a race atBelmontPark. Unfortunately, Venezia rolled right into the path of Drums in the Night, ridden by Robbie Davis, and that horse’s hooves shattered Venezia’s skull and killed him instantly. While incidents like this cannot always be foreseen or prevented, a proper pre-race examination is essential and can be instrumental in uncovering a potential problem to prevent an unsound horse from even starting. 

1971 Dr. Gilman logs ID exam findings NYRA

            Dr. Gilman was interested in all forms of medicine, both human and animal. His good friend Shirley Day Smith, who worked in the NYRA press office for over 50 years, recalls that he always had his nose in a medical book or journal. Because of a self-imposed personal dedication and interest, he kept copious notes on all breakdowns, including prevailing weather conditions and track surfaces, and followed them up with notes on his personally obligatory post-mortem examinations. Manny generously shared the findings of his “veterinary log” and his personal impressions regarding race track safety issues with his colleagues; including his presentation ‘The State of Racing in America’ at the Conference of Veterinary Research on Race Horses, held on December 7, 1992 in Tokyo, Japan. He was ahead of his time in paving the way for future computerized record-keeping.  Unfortunately, Gilman’s voluminous files disappeared when his house in Garden City, New York was sold.

            Ogden Mills Phipps, chairman of the Jockey Club, defined Gilman as a man who made a difference. Dr. Gilman adamantly believed that an unsound horse did not belong on the racetrack. His medical knowledge was an asset when he served as Jockey Club steward from 1986 to 1991 (he received the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Medal for his contributions to the racing industry). His efforts are now poignantly reflected in the 21st century as racing strives to overcome fraud and bad decisions, and to promote honesty and integrity to best protect the welfare of the horses, jockeys and betting public.

To be continued…..

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