Fair Grounds

Think the Saints cold chamber concept is only for players? Their horses use it too | NOLA.com by Allen Gutowski

By Katherine Terrell, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

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Louisiana Derby favorite Mo Tom had a trip "to the spa" on Monday morning. 

No, he didn't get his hooves painted. The 3-year-old colt, raced by New Orleans Saints owner Tom and his wife Gayle, is just one of many horses who now pass through the "Equine Spa" daily at the Fair Grounds.

It's a machine that slowly fills up with pulsating 34-degree saltwater once the horse is led in. The tub fills up to a horse's knees, and the moving water is designed to increase circulation, while the cold reduces inflammation.

In other words, it's an alternative version of cold therapy. The idea of cold treatment has been around as long as horse racing, whether trainers are wrapping a horse's legs in ice, soaking their legs in a cold bucket, or hosing them down with cold water. 

The cold saltwater spa is essentially a new way to use an old method. But cold therapy is something that reaches far beyond horses. It's a staple in every sport.

Horse racing, like the NFL, has a reputation for being reluctant or slow to embrace change. But these days, cutting edge technology seems more the norm than the exception.

Last summer, Benson purchased two cryotherapy chambers for the Saints and Pelicans. The chamber is a quick, three-minute version of a cold tub that uses -125 degree temperatures for recovery. It's an alternative method to the cold tub, which players often loathe but embrace at the same time.

The Saints took their chamber to training camp and used it often. While some players stick to the traditional cold cub, others swear by the quick and easy cryo chamber.

It's much the same way in horse racing, where the use of technology varies by trainer. Tom Amoss, who trains Mo Tom, likes the benefits of the apparatus on his horses.

Mo Tom is a regular client.

It was clear Mo Tom was used to it on Monday morning. While some horses don't like confined spaces, he stood fairly quietly, except to shake his head or stomp his feet in the water. 

Palmer Pedigo, the owner and operator of the machine, also performs the same services at Churchill Downs. Trainers essentially rent time on the machine from Pedigo, who is stationed behind the Fair Grounds barns from 5 a.m. daily during the duration of the meet.

Pedigo gets about 12-15 clients a day, from stakes horses to stable ponies.

Mo Tom is one of her more high profile clients.

And while she's usually there from sunrise to sunset, sometimes she's called in at an unusual hour. 

After a third place finish in the Risen Star last month, it was discovered that Mo Tom was bleeding from a cut on his leg. He had been practically pushed into the rail by a tiring horse and sustained the superficial cut in the process.

A cut might not seem like much, but in horse racing, any number of things could produce a setback that could knock a horse out of training. Horses pointing toward the Kentucky Derby must accumulate enough points toward entry into the 20-horse field. Miss enough training, and the horse won't make the race.

That night following the worrisome finish of the race, Palmer was called in to give Mo Tom an emergency session. 

He emerged none the worse for the wear the next morning and bounced back immediately. It was a sigh of relief for his connections. With a horse that's on the Triple Crown trail, every precaution is taken.

Benson just recently dipped back into the world of horse racing, a sport he was most heavily involved in during the 70s. Last year, the idea of getting back into the sport came up during his office at the Greenbrier. 

With Mo Tom, and Benson's other Louisiana Derby entrant Tom's Ready (trained by Dallas stewart), so far so good. Mo Tom has won two stakes races and is considered a surefire Kentucky Derby entrant if all goes well.

But with the Kentucky Derby still six weeks away, a lot of luck and a few new inventions will be used to help him get there.

Tom and Gayle Benson's 3-year-old colt Mo Tom, a leading contender for the Louisiana Derby, stands in the Equine Spa, which is used for cold therapy treatment in racehorses.   (Katherine Terrell, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Tom and Gayle Benson's 3-year-old colt Mo Tom, a leading contender for the Louisiana Derby, stands in the Equine Spa, which is used for cold therapy treatment in racehorses. (Katherine Terrell, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)