The practice of submitting veterinary examination findings to the sales repository is now almost obligatory when selling a foal at public auction. Many buyers won't even look at a yearling or 2-year-old if radiographs and a respiratory scope are not on file. Certainly at the mid-to-high end of the market, a foal being offered without this documentation would raise a few eyebrows.
With that in mind, my Keeneland September colt (pedigree, catalog page) was scoped and x-rayed yesterday in preparation for the sale. The veterinarian said he gets an "A" and presents cleanly. Whew! One more hurdle cleared.
What's so important about these examinations? Depends on who you ask.
Some buyers view any hint of abnormality in the endoscopic airway exam as a disqualification from further consideration; others reject only foals with the lowest scope scores. At many yearling sales, it's common for hips with poor scope results to be withdrawn, meaning buyers rarely encounter an offering with substantial indications of likely respiratory problems. A number of studies, including most notably those by Dr. Scott Pierce of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., have shed light on the relationship of a young horse's respiratory build and his long-term success on the track. Pierce estimated that he recommends excluding 6% to 7% of horses based on his endoscopic reviews.
I'm all for filing the results of endoscopic exams in the repository -- but -- I do object to the re-scoping often requested by buyers of high-end horses. In past 2-year-old sales, and to a certain extent with yearlings, it has not been uncommon for a top prospect to be scoped several times each day leading up to his sale date. Ideally, the seller would refuse the invasive and unnecessary re-examination, but when potentially millions of dollars are on the line, that's unlikely. Perhaps in the future, offering repository scopes performed by two different vets would be a better reassurance to potential buyers, and worth the investment by sellers.
Radiographic examination is a different problem. The art of interpreting bone scans is not without controversy -- and even when specific points are agreed, their relevance is a matter of debate. An abnormality that for one buyer is unforgivable might for another be a non-issue. Close examination of almost any horse's x-rays will reveal something that raises questions or causes concern -- and the association of specific problems (such as Osteochondritis dissecans, or OCD) with decreased performance is highly debated. I guess that's part of what makes horse racing so exciting. If there were a certain formula for success, the game wouldn't be quite as much fun.
One positive note about radiograph files: they're easier than ever to review. Keeneland's digital radiography program is now a couple of years old and has vastly increased the ability of potential buyers to review these records.