Air is cleared for Rockamundo Throat surgery makes start likely


If Rockamundo has another upset in him, he'll have to spring it as a patient recovering from surgery.

Eight days ago, three days after finishing a dismal 17th in the Kentucky Derby, Rockamundo underwent a throat operation to correct a breathing problem. His soft palate was slipping out of place and flapping, preventing him from getting sufficient air when he was exercising and causing him to gurgle.

Now, with 14 sutures still in the five-inch incision, Rockamundo is a likely starter in Saturday's Preakness.

Racing people aren't sure what to make of this horse. It was in the Remington Derby in Oklahoma City on April 3 that jockey Mark Guidry suspected the horse was experiencing breathing difficulty.

"At the top of the stretch, it seemed I was sitting on a ton of horse, like he had a lot left," Guidry said after Rockamundo finished fifth in a field of nine, 10 3/4 lengths behind. "But when I asked him to run, he wouldn't."

Guidry said he thought the horse was "holding his breath."

Yet two weeks later, as a 108-1 shot, Rockamundo captured the Arkansas Derby by 1 1/2 lengths in the biggest upset in the history of the race. Two weeks after that, with the same jockey, Calvin Borel, Rockamundo was 17th in a field of 19 in the Kentucky Derby.

After Rockamundo jogged twice around the Pimlico track yesterday morning, groom Jerry Hill felt the horse would be ready for something more strenuous today, perhaps a half-mile workout.

"He's ready to work," Hill said. "He was in good spirits and breathing good."

Rockamundo's trainer, Ben Glass, arrived yesterday afternoon from Freemont, Neb., where he was visiting his ill father-in-law. Glass immediately went to Stable No. 25 and examined Rockamundo's incision.

"Looks good, man," he said to the horse. "But it's hot in your house. I'll have to get you some fans."

After Rockamundo's workout this morning, Glass will wait 24 hours before deciding whether to run the horse in the Preakness.

"I want to see how he comes out of the breeze, what it takes out of him," Glass said. "I want to see if he acts normal, like Rock acts."

Glass is looking for a new jockey, since Borel is out with a cracked kneecap sustained Friday in a race at Louisiana Downs. He won't choose Guidry because of the rider's unfamiliarity with the Pimlico track.

Rockamundo's condition, called "dorsal displacement of the soft palate," in which the epiglottis and soft palate keep changing places, is not that uncommon. Horses recover fairly quickly from the corrective surgery. A New Orleans veterinarian, Dr. Jay Addison, operated on Rockamundo.

"It's successful at least 50 percent of the time," said Dr. Nick Meittinis, a Lutherville veterinarian who has performed the surgery many times. "Depending on the structural integrity of the epiglottis, it can be 70 percent.

"We cut out a section of the muscle that pulls back the epiglottis, to prevent the palate from switching places with the epiglottis. It's a fairly routine, one-hour operation, from scrub to finish. I send the horses I operate on back to work in five days. I've had them run with stitches still in."

Rockamundo is clearly the unknown Preakness factor at this point.

"All we want to know is whether he's still getting air," Hill said.

They'll soon get a reading on that.

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