by Emily Dickson

The Exclusive Triple Crown Interview with Dr. Keith Latson

The Exclusive Triple Crown Interview with Dr. Keith Latson

FullBucket co-founder, Dr. Keith Latson spent seven years as the track veterinarian for the Triple Crown races. Talk about a legacy, right? 

We sat down with Dr. Keith and asked him to share a few memories. We know you will love this! 

What's a specific moment during a Triple Crown season that has stuck with you forever? 

{Dr. Keith} There are so many, and they mostly involve horses that I had some direct relationship or involvement with. 

When California Chrome was going for the Triple Crown, I remember standing on the platform at the Belmont. This is a horse that I knew very well and saw four out of seven days of the week. 

Man, the horse had such a personality. He wasn't built like what you would think the classic racehorse looks like. He had some physical quirks that ordinarily you might look at and say that there's some limitations there. 

But I think one of the things that I learned over the years is that, like people, physical limitations don't necessarily indicate the degree of heart or love for a job that any of us do and that includes racehorses. 

And California Chrome, when they would set the saddle, and he would come out of a stall to go out to the track in the morning, you could just watch him like, “Oh, here we go. I'm so excited.” 

Watching him break from the gate at the Belmont was so exciting. I don't think there has been a race that has started out of the gate where my heart has beat that fast just hoping the best for the horse and hoping for a safe trip. 

He stumbled a little out of the gate, and I remember thinking “Uh-oh.” It caught my attention. 

After the race, I understood that he had stepped on himself or he had grabbed a heel bulb, and he still ran through that. He had such a love for what he was doing and such a desire to do well that he even ran through that. That horse had such a heart. When he was done with the race, he was still so proud of himself and proud of what he had done. 

You could feel the collective quiet in the crowd because everyone was hoping for the same thing. Experiences like that are without comparison. You feel the energy of the crowd. You feel the energy of the horses as they pass the first time in front of the wire and then they continue around. There's just nothing that really compares with that level of energy, that collective energy. 

And just watching those horses run in a pack of 20 horses. So, you've got 80 legs out there, all in such a tight clump and it is incredible that they have such a physical awareness and sense of where they are and where their legs are that they're able to do that. 

It's just that herd instinct of knowing where they are and where they need to place their feet.

Then there is the connection with the jockey. The horse has to be able to respond to that jockey and trust that the jockey is piloting them through a little lane, whether it's between the rail and another horse or between two horses or that the jockey pulls them out wide and they have to actually run more ground than the other horses. 

All of these factors come together in that one second, that one moment, the greatest two minutes in sports. Through those seven years that I was working with the Triple Crown, I got to see this over and over and over and over and it never gets less exciting. 

What has never failed to enchant you about the racehorse or performance horses in general? 

To me, the racehorse is the most raw form of athlete that exists. They don't have mental coaches like human athletes do. They don't have performance psychologists. They don't have any of those things, and in large part because they're so ‘in the moment.’ 

With the great racehorses, you can see the mental transformation when they walk onto the track of “Here I go. This is the show, and this is what I love.”

Take Zenyatta, for example, when she would walk up for the race. She knew it was race time and she had this kind of floating stride that was just all her. I think the general public watching racing sees that and thinks that the horses are just these hot-blooded machines.

And they're not. One of the things that I really love about the racehorse is that when I would go into their stalls as a veterinarian, they would be the ultimate reflection of myself and how I was presenting myself on that day - to other people and to the horses. 

I had the opportunity to know each horse's personality. I knew when I walked into a horse's stall who was normally a very quiet, docile horse that if I walked in there too abruptly or in a way that was not me, they reflected that and they would look at me like, “Whoa, wait a second, you're not the guy today who normally walks into my stall.”

That daily reflection from the horse offered so much ability for introspection as well as being able to take a breath and step back and remember that I'm here for the horse. I'm not here for me. I'm not here for the trainer because the trainer asked me to be. Sure, that's why I showed up in the horse's stall, but that's not the real reason I was there. 

The reason I was there was to serve that horse. 

That’s the thing about horses and the relationships that people have with their horses. 

It goes so much deeper than the outward “to-do” list of what we need to do for that horse. We’re really there to serve the horse and the horse, ultimately, is always there to serve us.  

What has touched your heart about the Triple Crown teams in terms of the horse, jockey, groom, trainer, etc.?

The relationship that the groom has with the horse is so special. The grooms are so proud of being the person who is responsible for that horse being great. They are also the frontline for identifying a bump on a leg or something that's not typical on a leg. Nowhere in any community that I've ever been involved with, is there a group of people that all are so different. 

You may have a billionaire owner of a horse listening to and hanging on every word of the groom that takes care of that horse and trusting that the trainer has the best in mind for the horse and its racing career. 

There has to be such a connection between everybody at all levels, whether it's groom, farrier, hot walker, trainer, owner, veterinarian. If there's a lack of cohesion, you don't get that team dynamic that really allows the horse to blossom into their potential. 

And at the Triple Crown, this is magnified because you've got 20 teams of people around their horses who all have found that synergy and how they work together, all with the singular focus on the horse. It is a really special thing to see people from such disparate backgrounds come together for that common cause. 

→FullBucket’s Athletic Formula was first formulated on the racetrack to power performance. Click here to serve your horse and watch them blossom.← 

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