By Bronwyn Farr
Veterinarians should select racehorses at auction, not "radiographically clean horses," Three Chimneys' resident veterinarian Dr. Jim Morehead told Australia's leading equine veterinarians at a yearling radiographic seminar Aug. 18 at Sydney University.
"We need to remember as veterinarians that the buyer, consignor, sale companies, and veterinarians all have different roles that overlap and, ideally, we as vets can do our job helping our clients," Morehead said. "Whether selling or buying. Help them sell or buy racehorses. Racehorses! Not radiographically clean horses. Racehorses! In a professional manner. Sellers need to sell. Buyers either want or need to buy racehorses. Underlined. Our job is to help them in their mission."
Morehead said it was not an easy job and advised Australian veterinarians to remain oblivious to "the politics. "Every decision at the sale, on certain days, irritates somebody," he said.
"As a vet you just have to remember your role, and that's all you need to remember. Call it like you see it and don't worry about the politics. It is not a popularity contest.
"We don't need to be discouraging the purchase of horses based on things that we don't know."
The veterinarians gathered along with many vendors, purchasers, and sale company representatives to hear Morehead speak ahead of the introduction of an X-ray repository largely modeled on Keeneland's current system.
Organized by the Australian Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) in conjunction with Aushorse, the seminar featured a panel discussion where veterinarians including Dr. Jonathan Lumsden of Randwick Equine Centre and Dr. Alistair MacLean, who inspect horses on behalf of major purchaser the Hong Kong Jockey Club, examined specific radiographs.
A theme quickly emerged as the trio was repeatedly unanimous in their evaluation to, "Go back and look at the horse clinically." In most instances, they were prepared to give a horse the green light despite imperfect radiographs providing there was no lameness, swelling, or other clinical problem.
Morehead emphasized veterinarians would ultimately be evaluated by their peers, and that high quality radiographs were essential. "I don't want to say we suspect people are hiding something, but we have all being doing it long enough to take good radiographs," he said.
He also stressed that it was important for all parties to communicate rather than clam up and run to attorneys.
"Just because you are sued does not mean you are wrong. You can't run around at the sales and make decisions if you are worried you will be sued. A lot of things get worked out before we go running to attorneys. A veterinarian who does not pass anything because of liability issues will soon not get any work," he said.
Australasian sale companies Magic Millions and William Inglis & Son have agreed to an Aushorse request for horses to be X-rayed within 42 days of sale, at least for 2003. New Zealand is likely to start at 30 days.
Morehead said it was important to work toward X-raying as close to sale date as possible to enhance buyer confidence. "Anything can happen in 42 days. They can jump a fence and injure themselves," he said.
Lumsden, representing the Australian Equine Veterinary Association (AEVA), argued that 42 days was an appropriate starting point for Australia and that any new problems would be clinically obvious.
Melbourne-based MacLean gave a candid overview of why the Hong Kong Jockey Club has introduced stringent import criteria. Hong Kong is the biggest export market for Australia after New Zealand, with the HKJC buying at the top end of the market and reselling at its December ready-to-run sale.
Aushorse is understood to be considering recommending that consignors place 42 radiographs--not a minimum 34 as currently required--because horses will later be X-rayed in 42 views to pass import tests for Hong Kong.
But the HKJC has indicated 34 radiographs and 42 days is currently acceptable for Hong Kong purchasers. "We will not be asking for further X-rays post-sale," MacLean said.
Aushorse director John Kelly, who chairs the joint Aushorse-Thoroughbred Breeders' Australia sub-committee on yearling X-rays, said there was a justifiable amount of fear among industry participants regarding X-rays.
"But we should be able to minimize the depths of the pot-holes we fall into by using the U.S. experience to our advantage," he said. "We can turn this into a positive if we work together."
Lumsden said it was important to remember radiographs are a depiction of a horse at a point in time, not a complete assessment of a horse.
Magic Millions managing director David Chester, whose company will spearhead the large-scale use of the repository system in at its major yearling sale in January, said Morehead had effectively alleviated many fears.
"I worried the repository could have a detrimental affect on the sales and cause a lot of pain, but after listening to Jim I feel more confident, and I think the repository could even help our sales," Chester said.