Some of the most surprising, and intriguing, news of the May 29 weekend came during the press conference at which trainer Donnie Von Hemel announced that Suddenbreakingnews, previously listed as a “gelding” in past performances, actually is not.
That was so surprising that I peeked out of the hedgerow bunker where I do most of my writing for a closer look.
One of the first things of note is that a racer with a live chance in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes around the massive mile and a half oval in New York has an important equipment change.
Then the questions started popping like flashbulbs. What happened and does it mean anything to the horse? What does this mean to the owner, Samuel Henderson, in terms of having a very good colt instead of a very good gelding, and is there a chance that Suddenbreakingnews could have a stud career?
What happened first is that Suddenbreakingnews was offered for sale at the 2014 Keeneland September sale as a colt. A May 2 foal, the good-looking prospect was sold for $72,000 to Henderson, who sent his new purchase to a farm for turnout and time to grow up some more before breaking and training, according to Von Hemel.
At some point, Henderson asked to have Suddenbreakingnews gelded, and at some point in the process of transforming the sales horse into a racehorse, someone checked, and it appeared that the young animal had been gelded.
This is truly understandable because there were no testicles evident.
But that didn’t mean they weren’t present. Somewhere.
As Von Hemel noted, ultrasound examinations discovered two small testicles in the abdominal cavity of Suddenbreakingnews.
Prior to this, the absence of visible, palpable testicles caused everyone associated with Suddenbreakingnews to assume that he had been gelded. It was an innocent assumption borne out by the physical evidence available for everyone to see.
If Suddenbreakingnews had turned out to be an average horse, nobody would likely have bothered to inquire. But he has turned out to be quite a good athlete, and if he won the right sort of races, he could find himself in demand as a stallion prospect.
Or maybe not.
According to experts in Thoroughbred reproduction, having testicles isn’t a guarantee of much, and having them in the wrong place is pretty nearly a guarantee of nothing.
Technically, Suddenbreakingnews is a bilateral cryptorchid, which means that both his testicles were retained, rather than dropping down into the scrotum. The norm is two fully descended testicles, and if even one descends, the colt (usually termed a ridgling) may have normal breeding function.
In cases when only a single testicle descends, the visible testicle may become larger than average and may produce a greater sperm volume. This may be the body’s way of compensating for the situation.
That is not how things are likely to work for a young animal with both testicles retained, however. For one thing, neither is outside the body, and that is key to sperm production because body heat (approximately 101 degrees for a horse) is too high. Furthermore, that neither has descended at this point, when Suddenbreakingnews is a 3-year-old, is not encouragement that the situation will change.
And if it did, all the veterinarians that I consulted believed that there was little chance of any horse possessing normal fertility.
As one vet said, “in 35 years of working with breeding stock, I’ve never seen it happen.” So we’re dealing with a situation that, while interesting to those of us who write about horses and breeding stock, is unlikely to have any effect on Suddenbreakingnews or his prospects.
That’s unfortunate because Suddenbreakingnews is a truly progressive and upwardly mobile young racer who may have many better days ahead.
A good-sized, rangy 3-year-old by Horse of the Year Mineshaft out of a mare by Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, Suddenbreakingnews has shown himself to be a very good athlete through the winter and spring. And prior to the Kentucky Derby, the bay had been out of the first two places only once in seven starts, with victories in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes in February and the listed Clever Trevor Stakes last year.
In the Derby, Suddenbreakingnews had come flying through the stretch to be fifth behind Nyquist and Exaggerator, with Gun Runner third and Mohaymen fourth, a head and a nose ahead.
In the Derby, Suddenbreakingnews came within inches of making his mark with a placing in the grand classic at Churchill Downs, and it appears that we could say the same thing about his potential career at stud.
But given his prospects as an improving racehorse, the status of Suddenbreakingnews as breeding stock may be a stroke of luck for racing fans because they should get the opportunity to see Suddenbreakingnews race for years to come.