Thursday, March 31, 2011

Continuing Education

Hip # 441: Bay Colt (Arch-Comedy-Theatrical) - Bridlewood Farms Consigner ($150,000)
The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ Association is a Lexington, Kentucky based organization whose mission is “to improve the economics, integrity and pleasure of the sport on behalf of owners and breeders.” As part of this mission, TOBA holds various seminars around the country every year to educate owners and breeders as well as aspiring owners and breeders. It was my great pleasure to be able to attend the Pedigree and Conformation Clinic held in Ocala, Florida, March 11 & 12 this year.

One happy side effect from being let go is the time to be able to devote to things that otherwise would take a back seat. This seminar was one of those things. I had wanted to attend a conformation seminar for years. Cleary Lake Veterinary Clinic holds a series of workshops every year here in the Twin Cities – which are excellent, by the way – on a variety of topics: barn safety, equine reproduction and conformation, but this two day event promised to be more in depth than a two hour workshop could be. I feel like Cleary Lake gave me the foundation and now it was time to build the structure.

An unhappy side effect of unwelcome time off is the inability to fly whenever you want to so I packed up the Civic, redeemed my hotel points and away I went. In two days I went from six degrees and snow on the ground to 83 and sunny. It was like a miracle! Even though the day I arrived there was quite a bit of rain in Ocala, it beat the heck out of the snowstorm that was pounding the Midwest.

The class met at the Ocala Breeders Sale pavilion and the folks there were kind enough to let us use their boardroom. Our first speaker of the day was Alex Kershaw, a bloodstock agent with most of her life spent in the Thoroughbred industry buying and selling horses. Though she gave us a rundown of what she looked for in a racehorse in the boardroom, she hustled us out and brought us over to the track to watch the breezing and give us some perspective on what she looks for when evaluating horses as they move. We learned that it was important not only to see the horse run past you, but also how he got ready, ran toward you, how he took the turn and galloped out. If you got there and just watched the breezes from the OBS website or DVD, you put yourself at a decided disadvantage.

The pedigree discussion was less than I would have liked over the two days but put into perspective it worked well and I can see where the discussion that I hoped would develop would be more in line with the breeding clinic as opposed to the conformation clinic. As an example I would have liked to have heard from the breeders we spoke with both at OBS and at Live Oak Stud why they chose certain stallions to mate with their broodmares. What we DID learn, though, was that certain stallions tend to pass along conformation flaws to their offspring. If you didn’t know this then you might be a bit nervous buying or racing them but if you do know that it’s a ‘known issue’, if you will, then you can have more confidence in the filly or colt.

Day two started with a tour of the Ocala Equine Hospital which was very interesting. We were able to see the operating rooms and see unnamed x-rays of common, and some uncommon, Thoroughbred ailments. The care and caution built into the hospital was incredible and the staff took obvious pride in their building and vocation. Preceding this visit we were given a presentation by Dr. Kent Cantrell , DVM, on the conformation of a racehorse from a vet’s perspective. It was very interesting listening to how the degree of conformational flaws can affect the soundness and running style of an athlete and where he would draw the line between a bid and a pass at a sale.

From the hospital we went over to Live Oak Stud and I think I lost my breath for the better part of the day. The place was amazing. The folks there, Bruce Hill and staff, were gracious and patient and are worthy of a post of their very own which they will get in a couple of days!

OBS Grandstand, Breeze Show, March 11, 2011
When we returned to OBS we were met again by Alex who brought us out to the OBS grandstand and we watched the breeze show. This time, though, we ran our critiques by her and that’s when it all started to click for me. In the past I knew that there was a difference in what I was seeing watching various horses breeze but I couldn’t quite put it into words. Now, with a tutor nearby, I was able to match what I was seeing to what I had learned and understand that certain action I was seeing was a result of bad stride length, for example; that others had a weak hind end that was affecting the way they moved through the lane; that some were simply beauty and power in motion that you knew would get all the money at the sale.
We wrapped up the two day event at the Eddie Woods consignment where Eddie, the walking and talking embodiment of a ruddy faced Irishman, took some time to show us a handful of his two year olds and explain to us what he thought the strengths and weaknesses were of each horse. Two we saw there sold for $350,000 and $450,000, respectively, so there were obviously more strengths than weaknesses!

Much thanks is due to all the presenters for taking the time to spend with us – especially Jeff Schwietert and his team at Bridlewood Farm and Eddie and the team at Eddie Woods Consignment considering they were smack dab in the middle of a large sale. Special kudos go out to the organizer at TOBA, Allison Parks, who was leaving to join the venerable Runnymede Farm. You went out with a great deal of style, Allison! Finally, no clinic, seminar or class really works well without great classmates and what a great class we had. Best of luck to all of you and I look forward to seeing you all in the winner’s circle soon!

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