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The lives of the connections of Derby contender Cyberknife already richer regardless of outcome

Cyberknife in the Arkansas Derby (Photo by Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park, via Kentuckyderby.com)

By Jessie Oswald
NKyTribune contributor

Before thousands of fans sing “My Old Kentucky Home” under the twin spires of Churchill Downs in Louisville and before 20 horses break through the gate in Saturday’s $3 million Kentucky Derby Cyberknife has already made a lot of lives richer.

While Cyberknife the horse was busy earning his way to the Kentucky Derby with a 2 ¾-length win in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, owner Al Gold was busy sharing the meaning behind the colt’s unique name and the tool that made Gold a cancer survivor.

“We want everyone to know that it’s not a big deal if you get cancer and can get the Cyberknife treatment,” said Gold as he welcomed a group of Cyberknife users and cancer survivors to visit the Derby runner of the same name on the Churchill Downs backside. “It’s painless, five easy treatments and you’re done with it.”

Al Gold (in sunglasses, with his team at Churchill Downs (Photo courtest Jennie Rees)

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in December 2020, Gold was like most people that receive such news, fearful and anxious about the illness, his treatment choices and the side effects. After researching his options, Gold chose Cyberknife. He received five treatments, each lasting under 20 minutes and was able to maintain his normal routine with little interruption.

Cyberknife by Accuray is a tool used to treat cancer of the prostate, lung, brain, spine, liver, pancreas and kidney by offering stereotactic radiosurgery and stereotactic body radiation therapy. Unlike the name may suggest, Cyberknife is not a knife, but a robot that can pinpoint the accuracy of the radiation to less than a millimeter.

“It uses a special x-ray guidance technique that allows us to fine-tune where the tumor is,” explained Dr. Neal Dunlap, M.D., Chairman of the Radiation Oncology department at University of Louisville’s Brown Cancer Center, which is one of many facilities that offer the treatment. “I tell people that when you take a breath, your heart moves, your lungs move and tumors move, so this machine can uniquely track the motion of a tumor in someone’s body. It’s almost like using a rifle to hit a moving target.”

Unlike traditional radiation therapy in which surrounding healthy tissue is often collateral damage, Cyberknife technology can minimize that risk by focusing the radiation to the cancer cells with generally little or no repercussion to healthy cells.

In 2012, Vivian Wilson of Louisville was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that spread to her brain. She underwent surgery, chemotherapy, traditional and Cyberknife radiotherapy. She’s currently in remission and credits her treatments for saving her life.

Cyberknife owner Al Gold with Vivian Wilson (Photo provided)

Wilson was one of three survivors treated to a morning on the backside with Gold to watch Cyberknife the horse train, meet the horse’s trainer, Brad Cox, and his jockey, Florent Geroux.

“It’s great to have this awareness of it brought to people,” said Wilson. “That there is the option of Cyberknife and that there is hope. Don’t give up hope.”

Cyberknife, the horse, is proving to be as resilient and determined as his owner, who never gave up hope he had a future champion.

Cyberknife was disqualified from a first-place finish and placed second in his first race. It took him two more races to get to the winner’s circle. Despite the early struggles, Cyberknife continued to move up in the ranks on his road to the Derby.

As exacting as the tool that bears his name, Cyberknife split through horses and surged forward from the middle of the field, holding off rivals to win the Arkansas Derby and punch his ticket to the Kentucky Derby.

Gold knew the Gun Runner colt could be a special horse and deserved a special name when he purchased him as a yearling for $400,000. Cyberknife has won three races in six starts and earned $860,000. He is trained by the reigning Eclipse Champion Trainer Brad Cox.

“I have to thank Al Gold for this opportunity with the horse,” said Cox. “Just because you give them a special name doesn’t mean it always works out, but it’s coming together very nicely for the Derby.”

Gold, who operates his stable under Gold Square, LLC., has owned or co-owned a number of horses over the last 15 years, but none has ever given him a grade one victory or a trip to the Kentucky Derby as has his Cyberknife.

“I’ve been around horses for the last 50 years, losing money betting on them, owning them, so this is a completely different perspective to everything,” said Gold. “It’s great to get the name out there so people can be aware of it and if they get cancer, they can get this treatment.”

Cyberknife will break from post 16 in Saturday’s 1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby, but win or lose, Cyberknife and Gold are already winners.

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