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Veterinary hospital across from Belmont expanding equine clientele

The goal is to provide specialty care for sports horses beyond what is available at the race track.

Veterinary technicians Jennifer Soper, left, and Lindsay Conologue,

Veterinary technicians Jennifer Soper, left, and Lindsay Conologue, right, care for a horse as Animal Attendant Jerome Jackson, center, holds the horse in the Nuclear Scintigrapy area at Cornell Ruffian Equine Hospital in Elmont on Thursday. Photo Credit: Richard T. Slattery

It’s been another busy week for the medical staff at Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists, the veterinary hospital across the street from the eastern edge of Belmont Park.

The hospital opened on March 30, 2014, and has since grown into a practice with five permanent doctors and five others who rotate in from the upstate Ithaca campus.

No longer does CRES draw its clientele solely from Belmont. Instead, Dr. Alan Nixon, a board-certified orthopedic surgery specialist who comes to the clinic toward the end of each week, said only 50-60 percent of the cases are thoroughbreds from Belmont and CRES’ doctors work in conjunction with the track’s veterinarians.

The rest of the clientele, Nixon said, are sports horses, mainly from Long Island, and a handful of standardbred racers, though Dr. Norm Ducharme, a board-certified surgery specialist who works on airway obstructions and diseases, said a horse was scheduled next week to come in from Florida.

“We want to be a specialty service clinic, not primary care,” said Ducharme, who, along with Nixon, helped establish CRES. “We’re part of the help team to provide specialty care beyond the need and care that are provided on the race track. We want to expose our students to learn clinical practice. This is run as a private practice with some academic people that allow for the teaching of students.”

The modern facility was built in 2009, though its previous owner, Equine Acquisitions Holdings, closed it in 2011 before Racebrook Capital won bidding to acquire the property.

CRES has a 20-year lease from Racebrook Capital but Nixon said both sides are hopeful a transfer of ownership to Cornell will happen sooner rather than later.

The property sits on the site of Dr. William Reed’s original equine hospital. Dr. Reed was one of six veterinarians in attendance when Ruffian, the majestic filly, suffered a fatal right leg injury in her famed match race against Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure at Belmont in 1975. Ruffian was transported immediately to Dr. Reed’s hospital for surgery.

The current clinic, in addition to being a working veterinary hospital, also conducts research. Nixon said he is hopeful CRES can create isolation space for infectious diseases and expand its rehabilitation services.

Two potential Belmont expansions may help the clinic grow its business further.

On the opposite end of Belmont Park is where a development project would place a new arena for the Islanders, along with hotel and retail space.

“That would be good,” Nixon said. “There would be more traffic, more people, more people living in this area. I think this area needs an economic boost.”

Though CRES does not see many trotters or pacers, Nixon said that would change if a separate track for standardbreds was constructed on the Belmont property and racing moved to Long Island from Yonkers, as is rumored. Nixon said that would bring approximately another 1,200 horses to the area.

Much of the CRES staff will attend Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, “to support horses in case of injury and we’ll have a presence in the grandstand,” Nixon said.

“Just to see the race,” Ducharme added. “Of course, it’s a good time to meet people as well.”

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