Longform Behind the Scenes: Foals & Famous Jocks

Alex Cutadean films the cheeky subject of 'Saving New Lives'

LEXINGTON, KY  (Feb. 28, 2014) -- Astute followers of bloodhorse.com probably noticed our latest project, one I'm extremely proud of, when it rolled out on the website Feb. 5.

"Saving New Lives," a behind-the-scenes look at one of the top equine neonatal intensive care units in the country, takes readers along to the NICU at Hagyard Equine Medical Center near Lexington as we follow both the rhythms of the unit and the story of a mare through pre-treatment, her C-section, the safe delivery of a beautiful chestnut colt, and out the other side of post-op recovery and the journey home.

Saving New Lives is a longform production, the first in a series we'll be rolling out on the website as we continue to enhance our online feature content. Longform pieces place an emphasis on storytelling with a focus on good writing enhanced by additional media elements like photo, audio, and video. Mainstream sportswriting websites like SBNation and Sports Illustrated have pioneered these pieces, and Saving New Lives was a bit of a pioneering effort as well -- the first longform piece produced by a Thoroughbred racing publication!

Our designer Kim Reeves did a phenomenal job pulling all of the elements together on this story. In fact, Saving New Lives was a big team effort between photographers, videographers, web producers, and myself as the writer. Longform in general requires more storyboarding/planning techniques and teamwork than I've ever used for print pieces, and we'd never done a longform story before.

We actually crafted this feature first for the magazine, then enhanced it. Although our following longform pieces will all be original to the web, this was pretty much our guinea pig. 

Our Blood-Horse team camped out at Hagyard for several shifts to collect the images, video, and interviews we needed, getting a glimpse of what the technicians and veterinarians deal with on a 24-7 basis. I even found myself holding a mare at one point while her rambunctious foal was given a dose of medicine. Talk about immersion journalism -- good thing I've been riding horses since I was a kid!

Anne Eberhardt Keogh did a great job heading up the organizational end and connecting us with Lynne Hewlett, the technician coordinator at Hagyard, and with Dr. Nathan Slovis. The whole team at Hagyard was awesome, especially Dr. Frazer, the veterinarian on the case of "The Big Mare." We were impressed by the painstaking attention to detail and the quality of care these horses get.

Plot-wise on this particular piece, we just got very lucky. We knew we wanted to follow a particular mare and foal as the center of our story, but we weren't sure how things would develop. As fate would have it "The Big Mare" became the perfect candidate to track, and we just kept hoping everything would go alright.

I'd never seen a major surgery before, equine or human (assuming Grey's Anatomy viewings don't count), and I don't know who was more nervous during the C-section: John Phillips of Darby Dan Farm or me! Check out the photos in the C-section portion of the piece and you'll see why -- that's a lot of blood! Thankfully, this story had a happy ending.

Darby Dan Farm is home to 'The Big Mare' and her colt

It was fun to go back to Darby Dan twice to check up on the foal and get progress reports. On our first trip to see him, he was enjoying the freedom of a big paddock with his nurse mare. On our second trip to see him, they were doing his Jockey Club registration paperwork and he had graduated to turnout with the mare and another mare and foal. Today I called Phillips to get the update, and he's turned out with about eight colts in the yearling group, working on growing up.

"He's doing great; he's a bit of a character," Phillips said. "He's so familiar with people, that he's very comfortable and curious. He's always the first one to walk up to the fence when you go out to see them. He can be a little ornery, too, but I like that." 

The Big Mare is doing great as well, so the story continues as a happy one.

The subject of Saving New Lives is a curious character

I've been a proponent of longform since day one, and I'm happy to play a role in our efforts to tell some of the great stories in racing using cutting-edge presentation methods. We have a great visuals team here at Blood-Horse and are planning some excellent features down the road, especially for the Triple Crown races. And I'm always looking for good suggestions for potential longform pieces, so if you have a story idea, leave it below! Oh, and all photos here are by me unless otherwise noted.

Tom LaMarra interviews Pat Day for upcoming longform (Photo: Scott Tracy)     

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