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Old 6th May 2008, 12:15.16 PM
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David-LV David-LV is offline
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WSJ Article About Breeding Unsoundess

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Reprint - Courtesy Wall Street Journal

Derby Death Stirs Call For Change
Breeding Practices Are Questioned

May 5, 2008; Page A3

The death of another high-profile horse after a Triple Crown race is raising concerns about questionable breeding practices and has some breeders and veterinarians demanding change in thoroughbred racing.

Eight Belles finished second in Saturday's Kentucky Derby and was euthanized by injection on the track after breaking both front ankles. The filly was the second recent Derby standout to suffer this fate, after Barbaro, the 2006 champion, had to be put down after suffering a leg injury at the 2006 Preakness Stakes.

Both horses were members of a prolific equine family that descends from the stallion Native Dancer, a champion from the 1950s whose bloodline is prized by breeders for producing precociously fast horses that excel at the Kentucky Derby -- a race restricted to 3-year-olds.

But just as Native Dancer's career was cut short by leg injuries, his descendants have shown the same fragile tendencies. If breeders and owners continue to tap this bloodline at the same rate, some say Saturday's grim spectacle is likely to be repeated.

"We are at a crisis state," said Larry Bramlage, a prominent equine orthopedic surgeon from Lexington, Ky., who inspected Eight Belles on the track at Churchill Downs after Saturday's race. "The soundness of the horses has completely gone out the window because we don't reward it anymore," he says. "Pretty soon we won't have animals that can go in more than one race."

Richard Porter, Eight Belles' owner, was unavailable for comment Sunday. "I don't see that there will be any legislated mandates regarding the breeding of horses," says Alex Waldrop, the president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, an umbrella organization for horse racing. "This industry is 100% committed to the safety of the horses."

A Dynasty's Fatal Flaw
A Horse Lives On at the Kentucky Derby Anne Peters, the matings adviser for Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky., the farm that bred Eight Belles, said "there is a blessing and there is a curse" that comes with Native Dancer's genes. "Many of the family's descendants tend to pass on unsoundness," she said, with many suffering similar injuries because their legs have "heavy muscling" that can overwhelm their ankles and feet during a race.

Ms. Peters said that despite the nature of the leg injury suffered by Eight Belles and the long history of leg problems in her extended family, the horse "was not inherently unsound" and had appeared to be fit before the race.

Native Dancer's bloodline is noted among breeders for its ability to transmit its strong racing traits through both sons and daughters. The last 14 Kentucky Derby winners, including this year's winner, Big Brown, are descendants of Native Dancer. The last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, is a relative, as is Cigar, the sport's all-time money leader, and Curlin, the world's richest current racehorse. All 20 thoroughbreds in Saturday's Kentucky Derby had Native Dancer in their pedigrees. Eight Belles had more of Native Dancer's DNA than nearly all the others. She was related to Native Dancer through three grandparents.

Eight Belles, shown before her second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, came from a line with a history of leg problems.
For the last 15 years, as prices for young horses have risen, the thoroughbred gene pool has been shrinking. The average price for a 1-year-old horse at the annual Keeneland yearling sale has risen 41% since 2002 to $101,347, and with more money on the line, breeders are narrowing the breeding field to fewer big-name stallions. The number of stallions that produced offspring has dropped by about 50% since 1992, according to the Jockey Club.

Ric Waldman, an independent thoroughbred consultant in Lexington, Ky., said attempts by some farms to expand the gene pool by importing stallions with new bloodlines haven't been supported by breeders and owners. "They want something that they can recognize and they feel has a better chance of success," he says.

Since Barbaro's injury, the Keeneland Association has hosted two summits on the "Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse" to study the reasons modern horses aren't racing as often as they used to.

The average number of races for thoroughbred starters has fallen 44% since 1960 to 6.31 in 2007 -- an all-time low.

Many industry insiders believe the injury to Eight Belles is a systemic problem. Jerry Brown, president of Thorograph, a New York-based firm that provides data and thoroughbred consulting to owners, breeders, and bettors, says the main issue is that the breeder market rewards big, good-looking yearlings that sell for a lot of money, without taking into account their sturdiness. "What the market asks for, it's going to get," he said. "It's about money and it's about ego."

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Last edited by David-LV; 6th May 2008 at 12:22.28 PM.
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Old 10th May 2008, 05:04.50 PM
CMarvin CMarvin is offline
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More Spotlight on Breeding

Courtesy of the Weekend Wall Street Journal

Horse-Racing Body Pushes Health Measures
May 10, 2008; Page A4
Six days after the death of Eight Belles at the Kentucky Derby, the thoroughbred-racing industry is taking steps to increase oversight of breeding practices and the health and safety of racehorses.

In a teleconference Friday, the board of directors of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, a marketing and lobbying organization for the sport, urged the thoroughbred industry to adopt additional measures to ensure the health and safety of equine athletes. The association's 15 directors called on all state racing associations to ban the use of steroids by Jan. 1 and to move quickly to implement previously recommended changes in track surfaces. It also discussed ways to speed several research projects, including a study commissioned two years ago to create a database of injuries and racing records that would serve as a "durability" guide to breeders and owners.

"It is clear that the status quo is not an option," said Alex Waldrop, NTRA president and chief executive. "We have to stop identifying problems and start implementing solutions."
On Thursday, the Jockey Club, of Lexington, Ky., which registers all thoroughbreds in North America, appointed seven prominent veterinarians, owners and racing officials to a new Thoroughbred Safety Committee charged with reviewing breeding practices, steroids and track surfaces. The committee's first meeting is scheduled for May 14.

Earlier this week, Barretts Equine Limited, a prominent California horse-auction company, instructed agents and breeders to discourage jockeys from whipping horses during a coming sales show. In a letter sent ahead of the company's May 13 sale of two-year-old horses, the company acknowledged the "negative press" generated by protests from an animal-rights group after the Derby.

Professional horse racing has no national governing body or commissioner. It is regulated by state associations, with varying rules about track surfaces, certification and medication limits. In the aftermath of Eight Belles' death -- which came one year after Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby champion, was put to death after suffering a leg injury in the Preakness Stakes -- calls for change have intensified.

Both the NTRA and the Jockey Club's committee will focus on implementing recommendations that were first proposed in an October 2006 "welfare and safety" seminar held in Lexington. That meeting was convened in response to Barbaro's injury and is credited with spurring industry efforts to implement synthetic track surfaces, which some believe cause fewer catastrophic injuries than traditional dirt tracks.

Ed Bowen, the president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, which convened the 2006 seminar, said yesterday that one of the new Jockey Club committee's major tasks will be educating breeders. The breeding market is largely unregulated, and these days many breeders raise horses solely to sell them, rather than to race them.

This practice has raised concern in the industry about overbreeding of horses with "fashionable" pedigrees who may have been medicated to mask injuries or genetic flaws. Both Barbaro and Eight Belles were descendants of Native Dancer, a 1950s thoroughbred whose racing career was cut short by leg injuries. This bloodline has an excellent track record of producing champions but has been cited by breeders and equine experts for producing fragile horses. "The breed is getting weaker because we're breeding all the same relatives," says Kinney Hounshell, a bloodstock agent in Lexington. "Nobody is thinking about the ultimate price we're going to pay."

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