As the bell rings, the gates open aaaaand they’re off!
For 30 years Dr. Bob Story heard those words while working as a racetrack veterinarian at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico. His impressive career has resulted in trophies, statues, and paintings filling every room of his Perkins, Okla., home representing the horses he has treated over the years.
“Both my dad and my step-dad were racehorse trainers so I’d been around racehorses all my life,” Story says. “It intrigued me, but I knew I didn’t want to be a trainer. So I decided veterinary medicine might be the way to go to be involved with the racing plus have a different profession other than training.”
After graduating from high school, Story earned a degree in education from OSU. He taught high school, community college and then OSU’s horse production class before earning his DVM degree from OSU in 1983. During high school and the summers while he was in college, Story worked for a veterinarian at the Ruidoso racetrack and loved it.
“He was an excellent veterinarian but not very well organized,” Story recalls. “I used my organizational skills to help him get to where he was supposed to be and the clients noticed that. So when I came out of veterinary school, I had a ready-made clientele. I just went out there and started practicing.”
And practice he did. One of ten to 14 veterinarians at the track, Story spent his career working with owners, jockeys, grooms, trainers and horses helping produce 14 All American Futurity winners. The All American Futurity is the richest quarter horse race in the world.
“There were always different challenges every day. It’s a very demanding veterinary area but it was very interesting. Plus the other thing is trying to make the animal peak at a certain point to where he can perform to his best genetic abilities. You’re dealing with professional athletes. Just like sports medicine in humans, you have to make sure physically and mentally that these horses are at the best of their capabilities. What makes them happy? What makes them perform?”
Along the way, Dr. Story learned some tricks of the trade.
“I did some specific things that I figured out through the years. If a horse qualified for a big race, I de-wormed him between the trials and the finals. If you’re in practice and very observant, you notice that about 10 days to two weeks after a de-worming, the horse seems to bloom somewhat. Horses at peak performance many times have petechial hemorrhages in their lungs. Even if you do an endoscopy after the race, you may not actually see the petechial hemorrhages. So I ran my finalists through a respiratory antibiotic right after the trials so that if they did have petechial hemorrhages, it would prevent a pulmonary infection.”
Story also administered Lasix to his horses to try to prevent petechial hemorrhages.
“A typical day usually started between four and five in the morning. The trainers get out there very early. I had to be out there at least three hours prior to the speed work in order to administer Lasix to prevent petechial hemorrhages. Because once the horse starts hemorrhaging from the lungs, it’s very hard to get turned around. So we tried to prevent that.
“When I got to the stable, I knew which ones were on antibiotics, which ones would be racing in five days or in three days, which ones had had some type of illness. The night before I would go through that so when I arrived, I knew all the different populations of horses that I needed to see in that stable. And so organization was a very important thing in order to be able to get to my clients in a timely manner.”
On a small day, Dr. Story would treat 120 horses and the number increased from there.
“The most horses I have ever worked on in one day was 342. I started at 1 o’clock in the morning and I finished at 11 that night. I swore I never wanted to have to do that again,” he says laughing.
For anyone considering a racetrack veterinary practice, Dr. Story has some words of wisdom.
“You have to be really committed to the industry and to the profession. It is very long hours. Hone your people skills. With every racehorse comes a trainer, the groom, and possibly the owner and jockey. You have to really listen to the people and figure out what they’re seeing on the racetrack, what the jockey’s feeling, what the groom is noticing about small differences in everything. You put all that together and then you help the horse in the areas that you think they need to be helped.
“As in any athletic endeavor, there’s going to be a certain amount of injuries. It’s very important to know that you have to give 100 percent on your analysis every time because there are a lot of factors involved. There is a jockey on top of those horses. And there are owners who love those horses.
“I think a person in any profession has to have a passion for that profession. And that deep-seated passion is really important to be successful in the racetrack veterinarian because you have to dedicate a lot of your life and a lot of your time to being out there.”
Story definitely has passion and easily recounts horses and the races they ran.
“My favorite memory was a mare named Deceptively. She was probably the bravest, most focused horse I ever worked on. She just loved to run and she put out 100 percent effort every time. She won the Ruidoso Futurity and came back and won the Rainbow Futurity. In the finals of the Rainbow Futurity, she was in the six hole and was hit by the seven horse just out of the gates. As we watched the film, it tweaked her a little bit and she had her right leg planted at the time that she was hit. She finished the race; won by daylight, I think close to two and one-half lengths. Soon after the race, she started to go lame so I radiographed her. She had a cracked shin. She had won that race—and set a track record—with a cracked shin. She won my heart at that time and that was probably one of the times that I just felt humbled by a horse.”
His clients have some memories of Dr. Bob Story as well.
“He’s one of the best veterinarians I know at Ruidoso,” Jose De La Torre, a race horse owner out of California, states. “He is a good man, an honest man. He treated everybody the same. If you had an emergency with your horse in the middle of the night, he would be the one to come—not his assistant. My favorite memory of Dr. Story is when he didn’t let my horse die. I had taken One Sweet Jess for the first time to a trial. The horse had a hard time adjusting to the altitude. He was severely dehydrated and had kidney problems. He helped us save the horse.”
What comes to mind when Bruce Bell, a retired trainer now living in Louisiana, hears the name Dr. Bob Story?
“Above all else, he was honest. He would always tell you what’s happening, what the results are and where you need to be,” Bell recalls. “We had a horse that ran a consolation for the All American, Virgil Vengeful. In those days you had to run three times—elimination race, the time trials and the consolation race. He won. The horse was just exhausted and before we could take his winner picture, he collapsed (in front of the stands). I remember how much Dr. Story worked to revive that horse. He was endless in his efforts to do the best for the horse and for you, the client. That honesty, that compassion and the passion for his work made him as good a vet as I ever ran across.”
“I hope to be remembered for being a veterinarian who was caring, who cared about every horse that they worked on,” Story adds. “And for my organizational skills because I worked very hard on that. And I’d also hope to be remembered for the veterinarian that was always available any time of the day that didn’t give up on any horse.”
When he retired in 2012, Dr. Bob Story had been there the longest of any of the veterinarians at Ruidoso Downs. Colleagues got together and presented him with a plaque that hangs above his home office doorway and reads, “See you at the races, Story Equine,” which is the name of his practice. While he might not be at the track any more, he will long be remembered for his excellent veterinary care, honesty and compassion. And in their hearts, Dr. Story, they’ll see you at the races.