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Four-Year Vet Study Enters Phase Three
Tuesday, July 25, 2017 RSS Feeds

A four-year veterinary study which seeks to determine how radiographic findings will impact a horse’s future racing prospects is entering into its third phase with the studied horses now starting to hit the racetrack. The study, which began with the examination of 2,795 yearlings at the 2016 Keeneland September Sale, is led by Drs. Wayne McIlwraith, Frances Peat and Chris Kawcak from the Orthopaedic Research Center at Colorado State University, in conjunction with Lexington-based veterinarian Dr. Jeff Berk and is specifically looking at radiographic findings in the proximal sesamoid bones of the fetlock with associated suspensory branch changes and radiographic findings in the medial femoral condyle of the stifle.

As the list of horses who ‘failed the vet’ at the sales only to go on to success at the racetrack continues to grow, the results of this study could lead to more objective interpretations of tests which until now have been largely subjective, according to Berk.

“The idea of the study is to try to provide information that is more fact based–more objective and based on science,” Berk said. “The underlying premise is that just because a horse has veterinary findings, it does not mean that those findings are going to negatively affect the suitability of that horse to become a racehorse. Everybody is looking for one of the really top horses and you’d hate for that horse to be unfairly impugned and unfairly thrown aside because of findings that really don’t have the potential to be quite so negative as they might currently be perceived to be. That’s not good for anybody. It’s not good for the sellers, it’s not good for the buyers and it’s not good for the veterinarians. It can be really distressing to a client when the veterinarian has assigned too much significance to a veterinary finding to the point where the client doesn’t buy the horse and then they have to watch that horse race at a high level for someone else when they could have owned it for themselves.”

At last year’s Keeneland September sale, 71 consignors consented to have 2,795 yearlings, or 74% of the auction’s offerings, included in the radiographic and/or ultrasonographic portions of the study. The radiographs were evaluated for changes in the sesamoid bones and the medial femoral condyles of the stifles. The ultrasound images were evaluated for abnormalities involving the suspensory ligament branches at their insertion onto the sesamoid bones.

Of the yearlings studied, 473 were again studied prior to selling at the country’s major 2-year-old sales: Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream, OBS March, OBS Spring, Fasig-Tipton Midlantic and OBS June.

“A seller or consignor has to give consent to have their horses involved in the study in the first place,” Berk explained of the process. “And then, sometimes logistically, for the ultrasound part, the horse may be located in a place where it is hard for the ultrasonagrapher to get to.”

Berk said he has been pleased by the participation of consignors in the study, which he hopes will be the first of many such projects.

“It’s been fabulous–we got a really great response,” Berk said. “It was approaching 80% consent, in both the yearlings and the 2-year-old consignors. That’s why it is going to be such a significant study, in my opinion and that of my fellow researchers in the study. It will be the largest study of its kind and hopefully will begin to move us in the direction of being able to do more studies like this in different areas. Right now we are looking at sesamoids, suspensory branches and stifles in this study. But we will be able to go back with those same radiographs and potentially look at knees or other issues with any of the joints that are included in the repository set of radiographs and hopefully be able to shift the evaluation process from one that is so completely subjective to something that is more objective based on science.”

The large number of horses involved in the study will help overcome the vagaries of different training methods and outside factors, according to Berk.

“Since we have sufficient numbers, it kind of equalizes out the difference in training methods,” Berk said. “That’s why the more horses you can get involved in a study, the better it is because it gives more validity to the study.”

The four-year study is well underway, but the results will not be available until all the information is complete.

“The data is being analyzed,” Berk said. “It will be compiled at the end of the study and analyzed at that point. The radiographs are being read, the ultrasounds are being read. All of this information has been transferred electronically to Colorado State University Center for Orthopaedic Research to be done. Unfortunately there aren’t any preliminary findings, but those might be misleading. We need to put the whole thing together at the end of their racing season and have those racing outcomes to really tell us the final answers. We’d love to tell people along the way how it’s going. People have been really good in terms of their participation in the project, consignors giving consent for their horses to be studied. We’d love to give them updates, but it’s impossible considering the way these studies are constructed.”

Year one of the project cost $175,000 and the estimated four-year cost is expected to be approximately $445,000. Bridge funding was obtained for the first year’s expenses from discretionary dollars at Colorado State.

“We are in the process of seeking funding right now,” Berk said. “There are several avenues that are being examined. It will be submitted to some foundations that do equine research, such as the AAEP Foundation, the Grayson Foundation. We are also communicating with members of the CBA, which is the Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association, not because we think necessarily consignors would fund it, but that they know clients who may have the means and the philanthropic desire to contribute to such an effort. So we are looking at different avenues right now, private individuals, groups and foundations.”

Berk said he thinks the research project will prove important to the entire industry.

“It’s going to benefit everybody,” he said. “I think all stakeholders in the Thoroughbred industry stand to benefit from studies like this. This will be, hopefully, one of the first of its kind in terms of the comprehensive nature of it.”


Courtesy of the TDN

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