by Kate Richards
When reading about a contentious issue or a tragedy, it is easy to think of racing’s worst-case scenarios. And about the impact of deception and the inevitable pageant of the blame. Investors model risk purchases as a normative, while sales attendees may believe in their dreams of the big stakes horse and trust on the guidance of experts. For every analytic assessment, there are variables and regressions based on the potential of a horse to make it to a racetrack. Health, genetic disposition, bone and pulmonary strictures, unforeseen, can mute the otherwise sharp talents of a thoroughbred. Some horses overcome these imbalances, yet that is infrequent and almost impossible to detect on purchase assessment. The certified radiograph becomes the conduit in a sale of a young horse, a brood candidate or as the diagnostic guide for a skilled surgeon. Used as an uncertain tool, however, it becomes suspect and cheats the horse, the potential owner and the trainer of potential. Moreover, it invites tragedy.
Consigners, bloodstock agents and trainers live by their reputations. They, in turn, depend on and solicit expertise from the attending veterinarians, some with long-standing associations with same. In this most recent case, there was alluded fault in the quality of the images, the asymmetrical nature of relationships to the image purveyor and the questionable dates recorded for the procedure. The tricky issue of trust is already at the heart of this issue and once suspicion gains traction, valuable reputations suffer.
Justin Zayat, General Manager of the Zayat Racing and Stallion operation, campaigners of Triple Crown champion AMERICAN PHAROAH, confirmed with Past The Wire that trust is critical as well as the timeliness of the x-ray procedure as “the closer that you can have it done, the better and more accurate it will be towards the purchase of a good, healthy horse”. Trust was again invoked by Kerry Thomas, a world renown bloodstock agent and diagnostician when he indicated to PTW partner, Nick D’Agostino, that there were “limitations in the interpretation of the x-ray by the vet that took them, how they were taken and whether the x-ray is imperfect or clear…x-rays can be taken to cloud or mask if they wanted to (when looking for) bone chips, the knees, and chip slabs as well as the legs”. Thomas’s company, THT Bloodstock, is noted for consulting on the purchase of RUNHAPPY and providing a herd dynamics analysis on CITY of LIGHT, as well as gaining notable attention serving as the presenter at international conferences addressing sport horse profiling, stakes field analysis and herd dynamics. Thomas and his partner Pete Denk are also touted as having selected the Kentucky Derby winner for the past five years (https://www.thtbloodstock.com).
Thomas reflected on his sales research requirements on behalf of a client which is something of a hallmark of his reputation:
“Whenever humans and money are involved, anything can happen, doing your due diligence with your own people is vital.” He admitted to examining the available radiographs and calling for second opinions from his vet if the image is blurry or in question.
In the world of 21st century racing, sustainability is the key business quotient; a combination of vision, priorities and change management. One of the iconic consultants in change management and lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Business, Peter Senge, reflected that “In some ways, it is easy to clarify a vision. A more difficult challenge comes in facing a current reality.”
The notoriety of the legal issues involving the Hagyard radiographs is a racing reality.
The business of learning from unforeseen and catastrophic accidents is at the core of the initial development in racehorse imaging diagnostics installed at Penn’s New Bolton Center in 2016, under the guidance of Dr. Barbara Dallap Schaer, NBC medical director and Dr. Dean Richardson, Chief Surgeon. New Bolton became the heartbeat for a group of racing fans, the Fans of Barbaro, when the Kentucky Derby winner broke down immediately after his Preakness post break. The vigorous work of surgeon Dr. Richardson and his team sustained the colt until an effectual laminitis abscess brought Barbaro’s life to a close. The state-of-the-art of New Bolton facility, the recovery pool and even Dr. Richardson’s dry-witted personality had made a dent in the interest of the most casual fan. It was through Barbaro’s saga that new fans became interested in equine science and after-care. There was information that translated into an established need for research and fundraising for innovations. From this, the FOB’s dedication to Barbaro’s legacy had a focus and the facts to back it up. Tragedy or scandal has the uncanny ability to alert racing fans, potential owners and professionals to a need. On the downside, it also brings out the trolls of racing damnation as well as the finger-pointing. The need for this innovation is apparent.
Diagnosing a track injury in a champion such as Barbaro or even bio-skeletal characteristics in a high-strung yearling often requires risky anesthesia. Auction houses such as Fasig-Tipton need a fresh radiograph 15 to 21 days before the scheduled sale. Before the EQUIMAGINE radiographic robot was available, the imaging was confined to the limited alignment of the imaging part to the body part. This robotic evolution, manufactured in the U.S. by Universal Medical Systems allows the horse to remain standing, anesthesia-free, during a painless scan lasting a mere minute. The resulting radiographs are exacting: three-dimensional offering the attending veterinarian’s a 360-degree point of view into specific concerns or for general condition currency. Called Equimagine, the apparatus consists of four robots and an optional treadmill that can perform several modalities of highspeed scanning without re-positioning the horse: CT, fluoroscopy, tomosynthesis, and digital radiography with a radiographic camera that registers 16,000 frames per second. The robotic imaging innovation is in residence at the Dubai Equine Hospital as well as several of the Maktoum racing properties under the leadership of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and chairman of Godolphin global. Cornell’s Ruffian Equine team makes use of the four-arm version under the supervision of Dr. Tom Yarborough also instrumental in the robotic equine protocol in Dubai.
In non-vet speak, these radiographic advantages allow for recording the yearling’s head, cranial cervical spine, and distal limb both in static and moving projections. And given the ability of the robotic machinery, there is no opportunity to adjust or mask a deficiency. The benefits are worth noting as the relative cost of a necessary scan listed by NBC is $750. USD and can be conducted minus the effects of anesthesia (NBC service brochure). For a nervous yearling, mild sedation can be used. The investment for the inaugural installation of the four-arm apparatus, $875,000. in 2016, on behalf of the New Bolton Center, was funded, in part, by a donation from the estate of Mimi Thorton. The two-arm version of EQUIMAGINE, recommended for smaller veterinary practices informed at $480,000. Sticker shock…yes, indeed. With the risk models already in play, the significance of the diagnostic capability and a buyer’s peace of mind is something close to sustainable value.
Credits: PENN TODAY 2016 the University of Penn. Communications by Baillie, Murphy and Min
New Bolton Center robotics brochure, scan cost pv-nbc-robotics-flyer-201