Trainers Treating the Horses Like Human Athletes / by Allen Gutowski

By Matt Hunter
Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 02:33 PM EDT

Destin in the ECB Spa at Todd Pletcher's Barn

Destin in the ECB Spa at Todd Pletcher's Barn

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Racing at the sport’s highest level, the Spa’s signature athletes suffer soreness and tightness just like humans.

That’s what keeps Carlos Melendez so busy.

"15 or 16, 22 a day. I'm a busy man. 5:30 in the morning until when I am done. That's what I do," Melendez said.

Working for 12-time Saratoga leading trainer Todd Pletcher, the 40-year veteran of the backstretch has one job: running the barn’s cold water spa machine.

“This is like therapy like the football players get when they go in the ice tub, this is the same thing," Melendez said.

“We are just trying to keep the legs cold and tight and make sure we don't have any inflammation," Pletcher said.

On this morning, the horse standing knee-deep in the water-epsom salt mixture is Destin, the Belmont Stakes runner-up and third place finisher in Saturday’s Jim Dandy.

"The water is 35 degrees Fahrenheit, that is cold, freezing water," Mendez said. "This is very nice, the horse does not feel it. You and I could not stand in it for five minutes”

“Logistics don't allow us to do it with all of them, but we try to do it after their exercise as often as we can," Pletcher said.

The Pletcher barn is one of the few with its own equine spa machine.

“Most trainers don't have it because it is a lot of money," Melendez said. "It cost $90,000, this one.”

“We decided that we were liking the results of it so we decided to buy our own and it is helpful," Pletcher said.

In a sport where results on the track are everything, Melendez looks at the Pletcher team’s run of six consecutive Saratoga titles as proof that his busy days are paying off.

"A lot of people don't believe in it but it does, it works and I know so," Mendez said.

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