BZ Glide combats a serious eye condition to continue his career
story by Tim Bojarski
BZ Glide is one of the best Open trotters to race in western New York over the last six years. But in the spring of 2016, the then 7-year-old son of Yankee Glide was sidelined for months by an eye disease, which placed his career in doubt. Under the care of a very special vet, however, this resilient gelding bounced back to return to competition better than ever.
BZ Glide was originally purchased as a yearling at the 2010 Standardbred Horse Sale by Margaret Butler. After suffering the loss of her husband and starting the horse only one time as a 2-year-old, Butler decided to sell BZ Glide and offered him to Mike and Alana Caprio, who helped race him since the beginning of his career.
In 2012 BZ Glide, now trained by Alana and driven by Mike, progressed from non-winners classes to the Open trotting ranks by the middle of the 2013 season. His career was rolling right along until the spring of 2015, when an eye condition was noticed.
“We saw little flecks in his eyes that almost looked like cataracts,” Alana said. “My brother-in-law works at the Flaum Eye Institute at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y., and he suggested I get in touch with Dr. Ann Dwyer, who was a clinical associate at the institute and specialized in eye disease in horses. So we took BZ Glide to see Dr. Dwyer and she diagnosed the condition.”
Dwyer graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in biology before procuring her veterinary degree from Cornell University in 1983. Between those degrees she was employed as a hot walker, groom and exercise rider at many East Coast tracks, eventually working with Hall of Fame Thoroughbred trainer Scotty Schulhofer at Belmont Park and Hialeah Park.
Dwyer joined the practice at the Genesee Valley Equine Clinic in Scottsville, N.Y., upon graduating from Cornell, became a partner and has been there ever since.
“They brought BZ Glide to me in September 2015, and at that time he had odd-looking eyes,” she said. “I diagnosed him with immune mediated keratitis (IMMK), which is a disease where abnormal cells migrate between the layers of the cornea and become blotchy. It’s a very mysterious condition that he had in both eyes. It causes opacity in the cornea, which can eventually deteriorate vision.
“At that point, he was comfortable and it wasn’t really bothering him, so we put him on an immune modulator, which is the same drug that is given to people who have had organ transplants. This treatment was a topical ointment that we had made up specially to go on the surface of the eye.”
BZ Glide responded well to the medication, and the next time Dwyer examined him was November of 2015. He still had cloudiness in his left eye, but had also developed some blood vessels in the cornea, which in a horse is not normal, as the eye is avascular. His right eye remained only mildly affected by the disease, so the Caprios continued to apply the topical treatment.
Things progressed well until his situation suddenly changed for the worse in June of 2016.
“We came into the barn and his eye was swollen shut,” Alana said. “We were able to pry it open to examine it, and it looked like a chewed-up, white jawbreaker; it was absolutely disgusting. We called Dr. Dwyer and she came right over.”
“You could not see through 75 percent of his cornea at all, and the whole surface looked irregular with some ulceration,” Dwyer said. “There were also some top layers missing. I decided he needed ramped-up treatment, as these ulcerations are very painful.”
Dwyer decided to insert a subpalpebral lavage system (SPL), which is an ophthalmic catheter that delivers liquid medication to the surface of the cornea to ensure it enters the eye.
“It is a little tube that is threaded through the eyelid above the eyeball itself, and then run up the top of the horse’s face and woven through the mane,” she said. “It ends at the withers where an injection port is added. The medication that you want to go on the eye can be administered with a small syringe into the tube, followed by another syringe full of air that chases the medicine through the tube and onto the eye. You know the medicine is getting where it needs to be, but you’re not messing with the horse to do it.”
Alana strictly adhered to Dwyer’s instructions and after a rigorous regimen it appeared the gelding’s eyes were responding to the treatment.
“We had to give him five different medications, six to eight times a day around the clock,” she said. “Dr. Dwyer consulted with eye experts from around the world, and made changes to the horse’s treatment as we went along. For weeks we didn’t see any difference, but then one morning it started to improve. During the fourth week of treatment, the eye started to look clear again, and every day it got better and better.”
After BZ Glide turned the corner, the tube was removed and he began training while receiving periodic topical applications. During the battle for his vision, the gelding did not compete from June 3 until Aug. 10, 2016, when he captured a qualifying event at Batavia Downs.
“I was amazed, as most horses would get dull and mope in their stalls because I’m sure he had a lot of pain,” Dwyer said. “But BZ Glide’s heart and character are truly outstanding and I think that whatever handicap he might have that was physical, he’s got the mental drive to overcome it. He is a real champion and it has been a real privilege to take care of this horse.”
Dwyer pointed out the condition could return, because the disease is not curable and can only be managed. Since the flare-up in 2016, however, BZ Glide has not relapsed.
BZ Glide was named the Trotter of the Meet at Batavia Downs in 2017, an award he also received in 2015. In his eight years of racing, BZ Glide has won 40 races from 139 starts with 31 seconds and 21 thirds and $301,097 in the bank. This year, BZ Glide took a new lifetime mark of 1:56.1 at age 9, and could challenge his career best for wins (9) in a season.
“Two years after the worst of the situation, the eye is better than it has ever been,” Alana said. “Since the eye has cleared up, we have not treated it with any medication and we have not seen any indication of flecks or cloudiness in either eye since.
“Dr. Dwyer is amazing and what she did to save BZ Glide’s eyes was amazing as well. Without her, he may have lost one or both eyes, or maybe even worse. We thank God for having her come into our lives to save our horse for us.”
Tim Bojarski, chairman of the board of the U.S. Harness Writers Association, is a freelance writer living in New York. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.