Update: Rachel Alexandria still in serious condition Friday morning.
Before Stonestreet Farm owner Barbara Banke uttered a word at Thursday's press briefing on the condition of her champion mare Rachel Alexandra, the gravity of the situation was explicitly spelled out on her face.
Wearing the angst-ridden look usually reserved for hospital waiting rooms, Banke and the attending veterinarians at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital detailed the serious fight Rachel Alexandra has ahead of her as the 2009 Horse of the Year attempts to recover from surgery done Wednesday to repair a colon injury she sustained foaling a Bernardini filly early Tuesday morning.
Terming the 7-year-old mare's condition "very serious," Rood and Riddle's Dr. Brett Woodie said that Rachel Alexandra was brought in for exploratory surgery Wednesday. During surgery, it was discovered that a section of her small colon had lost its blood supply due to an injury during foaling, causing bacteria to be released into the abdomen.
The damaged section of colon was removed and the remaining ends re-attached during the lengthy procedure. However, both Woodie and internal specialist Dr. Bonnie Barr stressed that it was too soon to determine whether a full recovery can be made.
"She's doing the best we can expect at this stage of recovery," said Woodie, who performed the surgery. "Certainly, infection is a big concern. I don't know if there is a way to put a level on it."
Barr termed described the potential complications from the effects of bacterial toxins as "numerous." Rachel Alexandra is being treated with IV antibiotics, IV fluids, anti-inflammatory agents, IV nutrition and medications to attempt to thwart the onset of infection.
"We'll closely monitor and see how she progresses, each day, each hour see how she does," Barr said. "Her treatment is basically we are anticipating those possible complications and treating her for those. It's too early to say (a prognosis). Pretty much, take it one day at a time."
Banke, widow of Stonestreet founder and wine mogul Jess Jackson, added that Rachel Alexandra was standing and seemed "brighter" on Thursday but reiterated it was a "day-by-day, hour-by-hour sort of thing."
Rachel Alexandra spent three days at Rood and Riddle last year for precautionary pain management treatment after giving birth to her first foal, a colt by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, last January.
Woodie did not believe the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro's current injury was related to her issue last season. He also downplayed the notion there might be hereditary issues at work as Rachel Alexandra's dam, Lotta Kim, has also had issues with foaling.
Lotta Kim has produced just two foals besides Rachel Alexandra, according to Jockey Club reports. An Empire Maker colt born in 2007 was euthanized in 2009 due to wobbler's syndrome, and Samantha Nicole, a 2-year-old full sister to Rachel, was purchased by Stonestreet at the 2012 Keeneland November sale for $700,000.
"I don't think it factors in," Woodie said of Lotta Kim's history.
Both Banke and Stonestreet Farm manager Garry Megibben said delivering the 140-pound Bernardini filly was a tough birth for Rachel Alexandra and that she was closely monitored afterward. Though the five-time Grade I winner appeared to be progressing well, she began showing signs of distress and going off her feed around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.
"That morning she seemed pretty bright ... she had a little pain, but all of a sudden she became really depressed," Banke said. "It's just a really hard day. You just hope for the best."
The Bernardini filly remains in good health and has been placed with a nurse mare at Stonestreet Farm.
"(The foal and nurse mare) just took to each other straight away," Megibben said.
One of the positives Rachel Alexandra has going for her is some hard-core, innate tenacity.
Bred by Dolphus Morrison, Rachel Alexandra put together a historic unbeaten 3-year-old campaign in 2009, when she defeated males three times en route to winning horse of the year honors. The bay stunner became the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness Stakes — a feat she achieved two weeks after winning the Kentucky Oaks by a record-setting 20¼ lengths — and she also toppled the boys in the Grade I Haskell Invitational before besting older males in the Grade I Woodward Stakes.
Rachel Alexandra retired in 2010 with 13 wins from 19 career starts and $3,506,730 in earnings for Stonestreet, which bought her from Morrison for $10 million after her Oaks win.
Should she emerge victorious in this battle against her own body, it remains to be seen whether she can continue her broodmare career.
"I think it's too early to comment on that," Barr said.