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Cattlewash overcomes a lung infection and EIPH to become a world champion

story by Hope Ellis-Ashburn

Cattlewash’s breeder and owner, Bill Donovan, could not have thought of a more appropriate name for his horse. Following a visit to the iconic Cattlewash Beach in Barbados, Donovan was inspired by its beauty and decided it was a perfect name for the son of Somebeachsomewhere – Road Bet.

The decision would prove to be prophetic as there has been a certain ebb and flow to the 4-year-old stallion’s racing career. In 30 trips to the gate, Cattlewash has a record of 10-7-7 and has earned $824,777. The road to success, however, was not without its bumps along the way.

Even as a yearling, Cattlewash was highly regarded by his conditioner, Ron Burke, and demonstrated his ability with a triumph in a $80,950 division of the Bluegrass Stake, a third-place finish in the $600,000 Breeders Crown final, and a second-place finish in the $186,000 Matron Stakes at 2.

Unfortunately, Cattlewash did not return for his sophomore campaign in the form his connections had anticipated. Once Burke discovered what was ailing him and treated the problem, the horse picked up the bit and lived up to his potential.

In fact, he equaled a world record of 1:46.4 at Red Mile in a $67,600 division of the Bluegrass Stake on Oct. 4, 2020, and equaled the all-age track record of 1:47.2 at Harrah’s Hoosier Park in his $25,000 Breeders Crown elimination on Oct. 24. That clocking was a stakes and track record.

Cattlewash rebounded from a third-place finish in the Breeders Crown final behind eventual Horse of the Year Tall Dark Stranger and victor Sandbetweenmytoes to capture the $160,000 Monument Circle at Hoosier Park on Nov. 6 and the $179,600 Matron Stakes on Nov. 12 at Dover Downs. He was also second in the $335,400 Little Brown Jug final prior to his appearance at Red Mile.

“He’s been battling some sickness issues,” said David Miller, his regular reinsman, after the Breeders Crown elimination. “But he is super sharp now that he is healthy. He is just so fast and strong.”

Pinpointing the Problem

Early last year Cattlewash, along with another horse in Burke’s barn, went off his feed and appeared to lack the necessary punch to finish his miles.

“You could tell on the track, he just wasn’t the same,” said Burke. “Both colts trained back very well, but then they immediately started to falter. They just kind of went bad.”

Veterinary examinations revealed both colts suffered from low-grade lung infections, in addition to exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH).

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, viral respiratory diseases are common. The most frequently seen conditions are equine herpesvirus infection, equine influenza, and equine viral arteritis. Symptoms usually include a fever, nasal discharge, enlarged lymph nodes beneath the lower jaw, lethargy, depression, exercise intolerance, and cough. Other types of viral respiratory infections include equine herpesvirus types 1, 2, and 5.

Pneumonia can be a secondary bacterial respiratory infection initiated by a viral respiratory infection. Inflammatory airway disease and reactive airway disease (heaves) are noninfectious and complete the categories of respiratory disease.

The Merck Veterinary Manual explains the respiratory system is, in terms of diagnostic testing, among the most accessible in horses. One of the strongest indicators for further diagnostic testing is poor performance, which Cattlewash and his stablemate exhibited. Diagnostic techniques include endoscopy, radiographs of the skull, transtracheal wash and bronchoalveolar lavage.

Thoracic radiography and ultrasonography are other forms of diagnostic testing that are used to assess lower respiratory tract disease; and other, more invasive, diagnostic procedures can be performed when other tools have not provided a solution to the problem.

While vaccinating a horse can help prevent lung infections, it does not entirely rule them out. Once a horse has been diagnosed, controlling environmental factors, such as dust and ammonia in the barn, aids the recovery process.

The Merck Veterinary Manual recommends highly palatable feeds to prevent weight loss and debilitation along with adequate hydration and rest while a horse recuperates.

What Is EIPH?

According to the article “What Causes Racehorse Lungs to Bleed” published by the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, bleeding from the lungs occurs worldwide in the performance horse and is the primary cause of exercise intolerance. Most common during spring racing, EIPH is seen in Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred and Standardbred racehorses. This condition has been documented for more than 300 years in equines and has appeared in human athletes.

“EIPH results from strenuous spring exercise and/or pathologic changes in the equine athlete,” the article states. “It is defined as the presence of blood in the tracheobronchial tree (system of tubes in the lungs) following strenuous exercise. EIPH generally occurs after training begins, and tends to increase in incidence with age. Present evidence suggests that high vascular pressures cause stress failure of the pulmonary capillaries, resulting in hemorrhage and edema in the gas exchange region of the lung.

“Endoscopic surveys of the airways in horses after a race have demonstrated a large number of horses suffer from EIPH. The incidence has been reported as high as 75 percent by endoscopy. However, less than 5 percent bleed from the nose.”

In addition to bleeding and poor performance, EIPH can present itself in many other ways.

According to the article “Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage, Equine Diseases and Conditions” by EquiMed, other symptoms include a whistling or roaring sound when a horse breathes deeply after physical exertion, abnormal choking sounds during work and slow recovery after a difficult race or strenuous training mile.

Horses may also be unable to sustain their speed, can continue to go off-stride when asked for their best and may swallow repeatedly up until 30 minutes after exercise.

“Bleeding appears to be related to the speed of exercise, with greater risk in horses exercising at maximum speed and effort,” the article states. “Recent research shows that pulmonary artery blood pressure increases dramatically during heavy exercise because of the need for oxygen by the rapidly contracting muscles.

“Once a few blood vessels burst, the blood in the air sacs reduces surface tension and more capillaries are likely to rupture. According to one important theory, locomotory impact can produce lung tissue damage resulting in localized bruising and bleeding from the lungs. Many other factors may contribute, including age of the horse, airway inflammatory conditions, small airway disease, capillary pressure within the lungs, track surface, training methods, and body and lung condition.”

The diagnostic process varies on what symptoms a horse presents.

“Endoscopic observation of blood in the airways 30-90 minutes after exercise provides definitive evidence of EIPH,” the Merck Veterinary Manual states. “If EIPH is suspected and the horse cannot be examined after exercise, cytologic examination of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid for semiquantitative assessment of hemosiderophages is diagnostic. Stains that highlight iron-containing pigments facilitate recognition of these cells.”

Treated with the help of Dr. Keith Brown, Burke’s lead veterinarian, from Brown Equine Hospital in Somerset, Pa., and Dr. John Hennesey of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., bronchoalveolar lavage was the method of choice for Cattlewash’s situation.

“We basically put water in his lungs, to the bottom of his lungs, and then sucked it back out,” Burke said. “Then, we analyzed it under a microscope to see if it would grow cultures. It’s actually the first time we’ve done it and it’s become a tool now that we use.”

Treatment and Prevention

There are several treatment options once EIPH or a lung infection has been diagnosed.

“There’s a bunch of different ways [to treat Cattlewash’s dual condition]—corticosteroids, a change of schedule, antibiotics,” Burke said. “Basically, you just monitor until you see improvement.”

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, Furosemide or Lasix reduces the incidence of EIPH and improves race performance. Nasal dilator bands, procoagulant agents such as vitamin K, conjugated estrogens, aminocaproic acids, antihypertensive drugs, rheologic agents (pentoxifylline), bronchodilators, prolonged rest, dietary supplements (hesperidin-citrus bioflavonoids), and anti-inflammatory drugs have not demonstrated therapeutic benefit but have been used.

How can EIPH be prevented? According to the EquiMed article, studying the environment is paramount. Good ventilation, fresh clean air, reducing exposure to fungus and mold spores, and avoiding other potential allergens can be key. Feeding good, quality hay, and keeping stalls clean also reduce exposure.

“Bleeding may be related to the structural efficiency of the lungs and the amount of scarring from previous bleeding episodes,” the EquiMed article states. “According to researchers, each horse should be treated as an individual with training and conditioning to make the horse stronger and more fit before strenuous activity.”

The Road to Recovery

Once treatment begins, recovery can occur quickly. Burke began seeing a turnaround in Cattlewash in about two weeks and believes his health has fully returned.

“I don’t think it will be a thing for him going forward,” Burke said. “I think he just needed a little more time.”

Although Burke was not surprised by Cattlewash’s swift recovery, he was shocked by just how good the horse was after treatment.

“He really took it to another level,” Burke said. “I still think there’s more, that he can become even more consistent out there.

“He’s wonderful to be around. He’s hot. He’s strong. He’s fun. He’ll play, but he’s not looking to hurt anybody.”

While most horses returning for the 2021 season are on winter vacation, Cattlewash is hard at work in the breeding shed. He is standing at Walnridge Farm in Cream Ridge, N.J., for $7,500 and is the first son of the great Somebeachsomewhere to take up stud duty in the Garden State.

Therefore, for Cattlewash, it appears the best is yet to come.

“I think we are going to have some fun with him,” Miller said.

Hope Ellis-Ashburn is a freelance writer living in Tennessee. To comment on this story, email us at

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