Planet Kingdom

Planet Kingdom was in the last crop by Star Kingdom. He was foaled at his breeder R F Moses’ Fairways Stud, Muswellbrook in 1967. His dam was the brown mare Lilting. Stud man Jack Rabbett attended his birth at about 2:00am on a cold spring morning (01/09/1967).

The Star Kingdom ex Lilting chestnut colt was the second top priced yearling at Inglis’ Easter Yearling Sale in 1969. He was led in the ring by new stud groom Brian Gardner who  was flushed with pride and excitement. I think the price paid was $28,000:00 which was a large sum then?

Planet Kingdom was a very good racehorse and proved to be one of Star Kingdom’s most successful sire sons. He was the sire of outstanding performers Ming Dynasty and Mighty Kingdom. The former was a great crowd favourite as befits many grey horses. He continued his career as a mount for the Clerk of the Course at city tracks.

Even today I vividly recall an anguished telephone call late one Sunday afternoon in mid-winter 1980 from my erstwhile great friend and work colleague (Dr) Ray Gooley. Ray was working in Mudgee and provided veterinary care at Lloyd Foyster’s “Gooree Stud”. Ray’s message was succinct: ‘Planet Kingdom’ had broken his leg! Ray very urgently requested Professor Dave Hutchin’s telephone number at the Sydney University Rural Veterinary Centre, Camden. Luckily I had it. Dave had ‘fixed up’ Bletchingly for us not very long before. Telephone communication was very different then!

I’ll let my good mate doyen SMH racing journalist Max Presnell take up the story. Max was MC at Professor Dave’s 80th birthday party at Randwick.

“Broken-down and busted but with something left in the tank”

By Max Presnell

23 June 2006 — 10:00am

UNLIKE with Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro the effort behind getting Planet Kingdom back on his hind legs didn’t make Time magazine. “Fixing the broken Barbaro took extraordinary surgical skill,” Time pontificated last week. “But the disaster raises new questions about how hard we push our horses.”

On July 1, 1980, the bold bid to save Planet Kingdom, a promising stallion, producer of Ming Dynasty and Mighty Kingdom, failed.

The flotation tank used in the US with Barbaro prompted a flashback to Camden veterinary hospital in 1980. With Barbaro, the pool was the recovery ward to safeguard against “thrashing about” when he came out of anaesthetic. Planet Kingdom, without the heavy metal of Barbaro in the problem leg, had a much longer stint in water.

“At that stage there was a concept if you recuperated horses in water you reduced their weight, thus facilitated fractural repair,” Professor Dave Hutchins, leader of the Planet Kingdom team at Camden, and still going strong, said.

“Prof”, revered by students and all who know him, celebrates his 80th birthday on Sunday.

“We had him [Planet Kingdom] in a tank of saline for eight to 10 weeks,” he added. “And the leg was [in a] cast. The fracture healed moderately well. He was taken out periodically to clean the tank and him. Unfortunately on one occasion he fell and fractured his femur up high and had to be put down.

“The problem with the technique is we now know if you immobilise horses for a protracted period you seem to decalcify their skeleton. Like space flight. Nobody has been able to pursue it further. It was a very ambitious thing to do at the time and at short notice.”

Firstly Prof had to convince Planet Kingdom’s owner, Lloyd Foyster, one of the “Fabulous Foysters” who made a considerable impact on racing in the period, and “only had about 3½ minutes” to do so. “One of the problems was dollars and cents,” he pointed out.

The eminent turf authority and writer Andrew Beyer, writing in The Washington Post, estimated the bill for Barbaro “might run as high as $US50,000 ($68,000)”. The gamble is for tens of millions in breeding fees. Barbaro, though, was insured “up to his velvety ears”, Time reported.

According to Prof, the settling for Planet Kingdom was “around $100,000” – and that was more than 25 years ago.

Planet Kingdom, trained by Neville Begg, was an above-average racehorse. His regular jockey Ron Quinton regarded him as one of the best he rode. Perhaps the entire would have done better on the track had Foyster not decided to give him a season at stud as a three-year-old when he served six mares.

“Otherwise Planet Kingdom could have gone to Melbourne and been a strong chance in the Caulfield Guineas and Cox Plate,” Begg recalled. Planet Kingdom had beaten the outstanding Broker’s Tip as a three-year-old.

After another season on the track Planet Kingdom went to stud full-time and at age 13 sustained a paddock injury, a fractured hind cannon bone, at Foyster’s Mudgee property, now Gooree Stud, and was transported to Camden one Sunday night.

“He was one horse we should never have had to lose,” Prof explained. “The accident at Camden was just bad luck. Apart from that, I think he had a great chance to return to normal function.”

The reason for the attempted rehabilitation was the same as with Barbaro. “What he [Barbaro] does need is ankle support, strong enough to support him on his hind legs for mating,” Time pointed out.

Barbaro shattered his right rear leg in the Preakness Stakes just after leaving the barrier at Pimlico racecourse in Baltimore, and is now in a 4m by 3.5m stall at the University of Pennsylvania’s George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals following a 4.5-hour operation in which surgeons inserted 27 screws and a 38-centimetre plate in and along the broken bones. “… we love our horses,” Time maintained. “So much so we might be wearing them out … the market wants faster, earlier-maturing horses, but there is an incompatibility between speed and durability.”

On the score of injuries, top US trainer Bob Baffert disagrees. “I’ve seen horses in the paddock injure themselves. Barbaro just stepped wrong,” Baffert told Time.

And he has a point, considering Planet Kingdom. After him the tank treatment was never applied again. “It had intrinsic merit,” Prof said. “However, we could not pursue it economically and reasonably any further. A bloke from Queensland, I recall his name was Smith, originated it. His concept wasn’t crackers. We decided it was an option with Planet Kingdom. With modern technology today, I don’t know where we would have gone with him.

Author’s Note: Ray Biffin had tried this technique in a simple water tank at his then ‘new’ veterinary clinic at Murrurundi in the mid-1970s.

“The trend now with fractures is to repair and stabilise them with internal fixation: plates and screws. With Barbaro at the University of Pennsylvania a technique to recover horses in water was used, a bit different from what we did.”

Prof gives Barbaro a “good chance” of recovery. “It’s always hard,” he went on, “because it was a monumental traumatic injury. They have put a bucketload of hardware in. That’s not always the complete answer, but I’m sure it’s been done by capable people. The longer he goes the better chance he has.”