Illuminator Update

Million Dollar Horse On The Mend

Million dollar day (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Feeling a million dollars!  The team lead in their champ (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Illuminator, the Trippi colt from the Glen Puller yard, catapulted himself and all his connections into the stratosphere after winning the inaugural CTS Million Dollar race in the most spectacular fashion on 23 January 2016. 

A few weeks later, with the yard and the connections still riding high on their win and formulating hopes for the KZN winter season, it all came crashing down, when the Million Dollar horse suffered an injury during morning work.  Thankfully, due to the quick action of trainer Glen Puller and his staff, the injury was picked up and treated immediately which has likely saved the colt’s racing career, if not his life.

Series of Events

On 1 March 2016, Illuminator had completed his morning work and after being washed down, was returned to his box as normal.  A routine check through the string shortly afterwards found the horse to be standing on three legs and the team scrambled into action.

Illuminator was immediately transported the short distance to the Baker McVeigh Veterinary Clinic just up the road, where x-rays revealed a supra condylar fracture of his right hind metatarsal (or in layman’s terms, a fracture to the right hind cannon bone, just above the fetlock joint).  Immediate surgery was required.

Unfortunately, horses do not come out from under anaesthesia gently, usually attempting to regain their feet before they have recovered their coordination, which poses in a high risk of post operative injury, particular in leg traumas.  Due to the delicate position of Illuminator’s fracture site, the veterinary team elected to perform the procedure standing (ie under local anaesthetic) to minimise the risk of post operative trauma.  Although this sounds dramatic, general anaesthetic is fast becoming the preferred choice for performing these procedures.

Baker McVeigh’s resident vets Dr Alistair Cameron and Dr Andre Hanekom performed the standing fixation of Illuminator’s supra condylar fracture by inserting two pins into the bone.  The operation went smoothly and after a week of veterinary observation, the Million Dollar horse was discharged and returned to his box at Puller Racing Stables on 8 March 2016.


There was a long list of strict post operative instructions, which Puller Racing staff followed to the letter.  The surgical staples were removed on 14 March and the opportunity used to take another set of radiographs to check how the bone was mending.  With things looking positive, Illuminator was prescribed strict box rest for 8 weeks with the leg remaining bandaged until 26 April.

Once the 8 weeks were up and the bandage came off permanently, Illuminator was kept in a sports medicine boot to support the joint.  For the next phase of his rehabilitation, he was allowed out of his box for 10 minutes twice a day to graze in hand, under the watchful eye of his groom James Paca who Glen says handles Illuminator very well and treats him like a baby.

On Tuesday, 24 May, a second set of radiographs were taken which showed that the fracture had healed very satisfactorily.  Illuminator began the next phase of his rehabilitation, which included controlled walking in hand, to be increased incrementally.

No Rush

Glen Puller (pic: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Glen Puller – taking things day by day (pic: hamishNIVENPhotography)

With no rush for either the Durban or the Cape winter season and time their side, Glen decided to follow a conservative route, allowing his star charge plenty of additional time to recuperate.  They have also used the time to get his AHS vacs out of the way.

Since the beginning of September, Illuminator has been allowed out of the yard and has now started walking in the ring and out on the sand track, with his handlers taking care to take him out in the afternoons, when the track is quiet.  His owners, Francis Carruthers and Ian Robinson have given strict instructions that no-one but Illuminator’s Million Dollar jockey Heavelon van der Hoven is allowed on his back and ‘Heavy’ faithfully arrives at as often as his schedule permits to take the colt out.  While the team are understandably cautious, asked how ‘his’ horse is doing, ‘Heavy’ gives a broad smile and says “He still feels like the same horse, but he’s grown and is feeling very well.  He is fresh and naughty!”

It has been a wonderful effort from the entire team to get the horse through the process – no mean feat, considering he is still entire and in the prime of his young life.  The Trippi colt has handled his box rest as well as can be expected, but assistant trainer Warren admits he has calmed down a lot since being allowed to start work.

The two pins have remained in place and so far the extra time and TLC is paying off.  While the right hind fetlock is noticeably bigger than the left, there is no swelling or heat and Illuminator is walking and trotting sound.  The colt has blossomed during his time off, having grown and filled out and his coat is glowing with good health, perhaps a greater testament than any radiograph to the care and attention that has been lavished on him.

The team will progress to the next step in October and introduce canter work, but Glen confirms that they are taking things day by day.  There are no fixed plans as yet, but they will map out a programme according to Illuminator’s progress.

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