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In a response to yesterday’s post, the anonymous commenter “Tinky” disagreed that the grossly punitive conventional wisdom about veterinary issues such as scoping and OCDs has been proven wrong and declared that it was “outrageously misleading” to say otherwise.

Well, I’m going to say otherwise, and here’s the reality of the scientific research, Tinky. In a study concluded in 2001 by Scott Pierce, DVM, and Rolf Embertson, DVM, of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Kentucky, they found that “There is no difference in racing performance for horses with Grades I, IIa, and IIb arytenoid symmetry at two or three years of age. Compared with normal controls, horses with Grade III arytenoids had fewer starts and less earnings as 2-year-olds when compared with normal controls; there was, however, no difference at three years of age.” (Arytenoids are the cartilage structures that work like flaps to open the airway and tense the vocal chords when the horse breathes in air. They close the airway when the horse is swallowing to protect the windpipe (trachea) from feed contamination.)

The statements in quotation marks are the authors’ summary of the evidence they found from scoping hundreds of sales yearlings.

Both the formation of the Consignors and Commercial Breeders’ Association (CBA) and the writing of the booklet on scoping came after the research was finalized and published.

Evidence such as the Pierce-Embertson study confirmed the anecdotal evidence of breeders, who kept seeing horses labeled as “bad” or “unsaleable” come through on the racetrack and win in good company.

The conventional wisdom is wrong that a horse cannot develop its athletic potential with less than an A throat or a Grade I throat.

Take a horse with a paralyzed throat and you’re screwed. But in these large research studies on scoping, more than 98 percent of the yearlings had no throat problems that significantly impacted their racing careers or their earning ability on the racetrack.

With regard to OCDs, the conventional wisdom was to cull horses with impunity when vets began using radiographs and began finding bone immaturaties and anomalies.

As much as it hurt them financially, many breeders and consignors simply junked such young horses, despite their good looks and apparent athleticism. When they saw these same horses run well despite their well-known “faults,” these same breeders and consignors began asking reasonable questions.

From the research of Dr. Wayne McIlwraith and others, it is clear that OCDs are a function of bone immaturity: the cartilage on the surface of the bone has not covered or hardened and matured over a portion of growing bone.

Dogs, human beings, horses, and probably all mammals have OCDs as they grow. They are nothing bizarre or lethal.
It would just be highly preferable if they didn’t exist in Thoroughbred yearlings. Their presence in a yearling’s joints requires evaluation, but fortunately for buyers and breeders, the vast majority of OCDs resolve themselves and present no barrier to a horse having an athletic career.

OCDs may well influence when a trainer wants to start working on a youngster, however. It’s a sign of immaturity, therefore …. use common sense.

Team Valor races the outstanding mare Unbridled Belle, who was a big, scopy, athletic yearling who sold for all of $4,000 as a yearling in 2004 at the Keeneland September sale. (And certainly not to Barry Irwin of Team Valor at that time.)

She was parked at the back of the sale and junked for a small fraction of the stud fee because she had OCDs in nearly every joint, I’m told.

Handled patiently (won her only start at 2), Unbridled Belle has advanced to become a G1 winner and earn more than seven figures.

The thing to remember for buyers and the reasonable people they employ to select racing prospects for them is that, when managed rationally and with a long-term perspective, most horses reach their athletic potential — whatever that may be — without regard to these veterinary issues.

To argue otherwise is to fight foolishly with fact.

I strongly urge anyone with an interest in horses or their welfare to read the booklets available through the CBA website (http://www.consignorsandbreeders.com/). They are free to download and can be accessed anywhere in the world through the net. These booklets are an excellent starting point to begin a rational discussion of scoping and OCDs, as well as the complex and multi-faceted process of selecting racing stock.

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