SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Chances are California Chrome is resting easy as he continues his quest for a Triple Crown, but horse experts were not after they saw video taken a few days ago.
The opossum that wandered onto the track during one of the horse’s practice runs is a parasite-carrying critter that can stop a horse in its tracks.
It didn’t stop California Chrome as he checked out the Belmont track on Friday in a video seen around the world.
Chrome was credited for keeping his cool as the critter invaded his turf, but UC Davis vet Dr. Nicola Pusterla points out the risk.
“Probably the person who took the picture wasn’t aware of the risk opossum can pose to horses,” he said.
Opossums shed infectious parasites.
“Not only will it shed it, but if it shed it, it can contaminated feed and water,” he said. “And if the horses accidentally ingest contaminated feed and water, it can potentially become infected.”
That infection is a neurological disease called equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, or EPM. It can turn a powerful race horse into a stumbling, weak, uncoordinated animal.
Now just being exposed to the animal’s waste doesn’t mean the horse will get EPM. It depends on risk factors such as age and stress—something a 3-year-old horse about to run the biggest race of his life falls into.
So one sure bet made at this track was after the video was seen, the opossum patrol was out in force to make sure no more critters crossed the Triple Crown contender’s path.
The Belmont Stakes will be run on June 7.