Keeneland is exploring ways to deal with sale horses whose health might have been compromised by pericarditis and other problems linked to mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS). One possibility is a pre-sale heart-scanning program for yearlings. However, in preliminary discussions with consignors and buyers, opinions have varied about the best approach, according to Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's assistant director of sales.
"We've talked about the heart scanning, but it's difficult to find consignors who will agree on the same person to do the heart scan," Russell said. "We also are getting the same sort of reaction from several buyers, who want their own 'heart scanner' to do the exams. They don't want to just take the word of Keeneland or the consignors."
Keeneland plans to meet with consignors to discuss the issue further next week.
Keeneland is waiting for additional information from scientists before deciding how to handle sale mares that might be carrying fetuses whose health has been comprised.
"We have some problems with buyer confidence already; there is no doubt about that," Russell said. "But I don't think the scientists are comfortable yet with what they know. So, until we get some answers, I couldn't even begin to comment on what we would think about doing with mares."
During the MRLS Information Sharing Session at Keeneland on Thursday, Dr. Tom Riddle of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital reported on findings of abnormal allantoic fluid in mares in his practice that had remained pregnant. Forty percent of the mares bred in February had lost their fetuses while an additional 30% had abnormal allantoic fluid but were still in foal. The comparable figures for mares bred in March were 33% and 6%, respectively. If the compromised mares that remained pregnant don't abort, their foals could be smaller and weaker than normal, Riddle said.
The veterinarian declined to speculate about the commercial viability of compromised mares, saying it would depend on whether they maintained their pregnancies and how their fetuses developed.
"I think we have to wait and see what these mares do," he said. "First of all, it may be that these mares won't end up in the sales because they will all abort. If they do maintain their pregnancies, I'm not sure what will happen. Possibly as we progress with this and we are able to follow the fetuses along with ultrasound, we may develop a greater degree of confidence that the fetuses are developing normally and that you can buy with confidence. I think ultrasound is probably going to be the best way to evaluate those mares for normalcy."