- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - Along the backstretch at Oaklawn Park, the health and wellness of the thoroughbreds are crucial to ensure a great race meet. Something as simple as good dental health can make a world of difference on the track.

Since 1985, Bret Richards has practiced equine dentistry, traveling to tracks throughout the South for different trainers. Working in the racing industry has been in his family for generations.

“My father was a trainer here for about 35 years working with thoroughbreds, and he was born here in Hot Springs and so was I,” Richards said as he worked with one of the horses. “I’ve been working on the backside here since before the parking lot was here.”

Richards went into the business when a good family friend told him it would be a good occupation to get into.

Over the years, he has worked on acclaimed horses, including Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, Pine Bluff and Afleet Alex. Recently, he worked with Ride On Curlin, who is racing at Oaklawn this meet.

“I’ve gotten to work with a lot of really nice horses,” he said, adding that with many big-name clients, he stays busy when making his rounds at the barns.

“Like us, the horses need to see a dentist about every six months,” he told The Sentinel-Record (http://is.gd/PHiUwA). “So for my bigger clients, I keep a record of when I last saw them and check in every six months. If they’re available and ready, I start working.”

Unlike humans, a horse’s teeth continually grow and need to be filed down — or floated. While this helps mostly with feed consumption and digestion, Richards said there are other benefits.

“Having their teeth floated can help big time on the racetrack as far as comfort with the bit,” he said. “When the jockey pulls on the reins, it really makes a difference when they aren’t hitting any sharp points. Floating their teeth rounds out those edges that can hurt them and that makes a huge difference.”

In particular, for one thoroughbred he has worked with, having its teeth floated was just what it needed to perform better on race days.

“We couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t racing well and found that he really needed his teeth worked on,” Richards said. “After we fixed him up, he started doing better at each race and won a few. People started asking what the secret was to his success, and in that case, it was simply his teeth.”

According to Richards, the only major difference between dental work for thoroughbreds and other horses is simply pulling teeth.

“I pull a lot of baby teeth on a typical day,” he said. “For other farm horses, you don’t have to do that as much, but because of the ages of the thoroughbreds, they need to have teeth pulled more often. That’s just an everyday thing.”

Working from state to state, the regulations Richards operates under are different everywhere he goes.

“When I’m here in Arkansas, I work under a veterinarian, but back in Louisiana I’m a licensed equine dentist operating on my own,” he said. “Everywhere is a little bit different.”

Now, Richards is continuing the family tradition of working with thoroughbreds as his son is following in his footsteps.

“He graduated from Arkansas Tech University with an agriculture degree, and he’s studied a lot of the science behind it,” he said. “He helps me out here, and like a lot of these jobs with the racetrack, it’s passed down generation to generation.”

And all jobs in maintaining the thoroughbreds’ well-being work together, he said.

“You look at all the jobs back here and you see that they’re all very important pieces to the puzzle,” he said. “Everyone has to work together if you want to get to the winner’s circle.”

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Information from: The Sentinel-Record, http://www.hotsr.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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