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June 3, 2001, Sunday
Nurturing a Colt’s Inner Superstar


Wander through the back of Belmont Park this week as the finest 3-year-olds prepare for the 133rd Belmont Stakes on Saturday and you’ll see some strange devices being used on the thoroughbreds.

Horse trainers have long used acupressure to diagnose sore muscles and potential problems from snout to hoof, but they have become more willing to supplement — or even bypass — traditional drug treatments for stiff joints and tender feet with alternative therapies like ultra-sound and electromagnets.




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Monarchos wins the 2001 Kentucky Derby, in the second fastest time ever. His trainers used the Equitonic daily before the race.
"Equitonic Therapy was a daily part of our preparations to help Monarchos win the Kentucky Derby" - Yvonne Azeff, Assistant Trainer (lower right)

Monarchos, the Kentucky Derby winner, simply melts when a kind of helmet is fitted over his gray head and a constellation of tiny lasers massages his powerful neck and spine. His legs are pulled and his neck stretched by a licensed chiropractor. Acupuncture has helped relieve stress on his ankles and hindquarters. And he is devoted to what his trainers call ‘’the chi-gong machine,’’ an ultrasound device. (ed: infrasound)

‘’Within two minutes his eyes gets soft, he yawns and goes into La-La Land — just like a person getting massage,’’ said Yvonne Azeff, an assistant to his trainer, John Ward.

The colt cost $170,000 as a 2-year-old but is now worth at least $30 million as a stud prospect by virtue of his victory at Churchill Downs in the fastest time since Secretariat’s legendary run in 1973. Mr. Ward, a third-generation horseman, says that Monarchos is a ‘’superstar athlete’’ and that such athletes — like Shaquille O’Neal, who thrives on eastern medicine — deserve such treatment.

‘’You keep superstars healthy and happy,’’ said Mr. Ward, who spends $50 a day on his colt’s new age therapy. ‘’You pamper them.’’ And, he said, ‘’I know it’s cut down on the amount of anti-inflammatory medicine we use.’’

Still, there are skeptics. The trainer of Point Given, the Preakness winner and likely co-favorite with Monarchos for the third leg of the Triple Crown, prefers the age of reason over the new age. ‘’I don’t use voodoo,’’ said Bob Baffert. ‘’When I want to pamper my colt, I give him mints.’’

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