On the morning of April 16, The Blood-Horse invited five people with a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the area of conformation to physically examine a group of yearlings entered in the 2003 Keeneland September sale. Denali Stud owner Craig Bandoroff was asked to select a diverse group of yearlings, and the inspectors were told the sire, broodmare sire, and foaling date. They were not told the dam's name or any produce information.

That same afternoon, the panelists, with Bandoroff attending, discussed the individual yearlings as well as answered questions about conformation. They had conformation photographs of each yearling to refer to when discussing them.

It is important to note many young horses change significantly from month to month. For example, when reviewing the yearlings two months later, Bandoroff noted how the Storm Cat colt's back, an area of concern to the panelists, had improved dramatically.

Dan Liebman, executive editor of The Blood-Horse, served as moderator.

Participants were:

Baden P. "Buzz" Chace: Advises clients at auctions on pinhooking and racing prospects. His major clients include Ernie Paragallo's Paraneck Stable, Aaron and Marie Jones, Raymond Dweck, and Charles Hess. Purchased at auction, among others, Unbridled's Song, Artax, and Sarava.

Marette Farrell: A native of Ireland, she does a bit of pinhooking, and also does the preliminary viewing of yearlings at farms for Tim McMurry and Eric Anderson, who purchases for Stan Fulton.

John T. Ward Jr.: Third-generation trainer whose main client is John Oxley, for whom he has trained numerous top horses such as Monarchos and Beautiful Pleasure.

John Moynihan: Agent for Robert and Beverly Lewis, who are among the leading owners in the business, having raced such horses as Serena's Song and Silver Charm. Among the horses he purchased for them are Charismatic, High Yield, and Exploit.

Bayne C. Welker Jr.: Role at Alice Chandler's Mill Ridge Farm includes advising clients on the sale and purchase of yearlings. Father owns Locust Ridge Farm near Paris, Ky.


The Blood-Horse: What have you found to be one conformation flaw you can live with? A flaw that consistently has not deterred you from purchasing or recommending the purchase of a yearling.

Buzz Chace: There are a lot of things you can live with. People say, 'This one toes in, or he's back in one knee.' If a horse has one of those things, it's OK if he carries himself in a nice way. I can live with one of those things you might call a flaw.

Marette Farrell: I think that sometimes people concentrate a lot on the front end. They say, 'He's back at the knee, or he's really out, or he's very offset.' But I think if it's balanced by a very good back end, it can really help the horse. I think that is more important because the power comes from behind. So I tend to be a little more lenient with some problems in front.

John Ward: I would totally agree with what she said. As far as my selection process goes, if a horse doesn't have a good rear end and a good hind leg, it is probably an eliminating situation for me. As far as the front end goes, I don't like horses that are back at the knee. But as far as horses that are a little offset or they toe out, as long as they have that powerful rear end...the front end isn't going to be on the ground that long. It should be used for steering and that's all it should be used for. The eliminating fault for me is always a very crooked hind leg. I can live with horses that toe out. But I cannot live with a horse that is back at the knee.

John Moynihan: My determining factor is the degree of the flaw in relationship to the degree the horse is offset or the degree to which the horse is in or out. I have to have a horse with a good hind leg. The degree of the flaw, that coincides with the balance of the horse. If you have a horse that is really balanced, but he is offset in the knees and is a great big, heavy horse, I'm staying off. But if you see a horse--and you see them a lot at 2-year-old sales--that goes through a yearling sale, and brings nothing, you see him again at a 2-year-old sale and he rockets down through there, he appears to be sound at the time, usually those horses coincide with horses that are very well balanced and have very nice hind conformation.

I have to look at the whole package. I don't automatically dismiss a horse, until I combine the fault with the body and weight distribution of the horse, or what I feel that is going to be.

Bayne Welker: I don't think there is any one thing that is going to get me right off of a horse. All of us can live with certain degrees of things. My overall impression starts with is he balanced when he comes out. What are his mechanics like? How does he use himself? If he has an offset knee, does he walk through it pretty well, or does he want to throw that foot out? Is he smooth? Can he use himself well? Easily? Is there not a lot of wasted motion? If I see a horse that's unbalanced, real heavy, a big ass end, and no shoulder, I don't care how good his hind end is. If he doesn't have a shoulder to match it, he's not going to be able to run. He might run a short distance fast, but he isn't going to run very far.

Carry that thought further. What is the one thing that time and time again, you've been right about, as far as something you just can't live with?

Welker: If I see a horse come out and he's straight from the point of his shoulder and he's straight all the way down through his front end, I want no part of him. I don't want a straight-shouldered horse. I want as much slope to the shoulder as I can possibly see.

Moynihan: Upright pasterns kill me. That's one thing you can spot from a distance when they come out of the barn. Upright pasterns go with a straight-shouldered horse because they usually don't have any reach when they go to run. If they don't have the balance, and everything doesn't tie in properly up top for me, I lose interest. I'm looking for an aesthetically balanced, pretty animal. That's not to say that those other animals can't run because a lot of them do. But most of the good horses you see run have those similar traits.

Ward: A horse that is back at the knee, I just walk away. A horse that is a physical wreck in front, if he is walking out of the barn and toeing in, that front end has to hit the ground, and it has to support a lot of weight. To regress a little bit to rear ends, I think the only place you can get away with a rear end is on the grass in Europe. Once that quality of horse gets to be four years old, and has tremendous quality, then they can come to this country and run on the grass and be outstanding. But because we are so dirt biased, it is very difficult to get away from it. And having been through generations of this thing, only in the past 10 or 15 years has the rear end been so important. Most of the old timers used to...well, I loved what (trainer) Joe Bollero said, that he didn't even look at the rear end of a horse.

Why do you think that is?

Ward: I think everybody wants to know why. Our speed has gotten more intense. You used to see (six-furlong) races that didn't go faster than one eleven (1:11). Now they go nine and change all the time. Because we started to select horses better for their hind ends. You look at the Storm Cats and you look at the Raise a Native-line horses and you look at those speed lines, you see great big gaskins and big hips on them.

Farrell: For me personally I find it difficult to look at slack pasterns and slack ankles. I've had a few, in pinhooking 2-year-olds, one or two that we took a chance on, and it worked for us, but it really didn't work for those horses down the road. That is my personal peeve. I wanted to say, to continue on with what John said, I come from Ireland and you can get away with a lot over there that you can't here because the tracks are different. But by the same token, if some training schedules are changed a little bit, horses that do have some problems, they can live with them as they get older and they can handle it, then you can push them a little later. For example, Dressed To Thrill, she is actually quite straight and back at her knee. But she has tremendous balance and is a very strong filly.

Moynihan: You always see those exceptions that make you scratch your head. But you don't see a lot of them.

Chace: I really agree with everybody about a good hind end, a good gaskin, a good fluid walk. But the thing I most like to see when they come out of the stall, I like to see a horse with a beautiful head and a beautiful long neck. Then, does it fit into his shoulder and his withers. I kind of take it from there. Then I will go and look for things that might bug me. A lot of the things from there I might be able to live with. I don't like long pasterns. I don't like horses that are really upright. I'm looking at them when they come out of the stall to see if they are nice, alert, good-looking horses. Does he look like he has a nice mind? I've never seen the perfect horse, but if everything else kind of fits in, then it can work.

John, you and Marette both mentioned grass horses. Every year we see them come to this country from Europe and they are group III winners there and they come over here and win grade Is. Expound on why that is?

Ward: In my opinion your class in Europe is so concentrated. A horse that is beaten two lengths in a group I comes back and wins a group II, but a lot of the time, cannot win a group I no matter what he does. Your performance is so concentrated over there. You take a horse that is stakes-placed in a group III, beaten three or four lengths, that's probably a group II horse that beat him. They can run them every day and he will probably never get by that group II horse. You come to this country, especially with those grass horses, and our top horses are so spread out, those European horses hold their form 99% of the time. And they also understand what their job is when they come to this country; they train well, they know how to quicken, and they're solid-minded kind of horses. Also, the racing colony in England is probably 7,000 horses, where the racing colony in this country is probably  25,000 horses.

Let's move to yearling number one. You have the pictures in front of you. We don't have to start with any one person. We can move it around. What are your thoughts on him?

Welker: The first thing you have to take into consideration is he's a late May (foal), so he's going to be a bit immature. The first thing that jumps out at you is his hindquarter and his ass end...real nice. You might like to see a little more neck. He's still immature through his neck. What I didn't like about him was that the walls of his feet are a little narrow right now. I like to see a good foot on a young horse. When that horse walked, he didn't move through his shoulder real well. He was a little bit wide through the front, and I don't like to see horses walking wide when they're young horses. I would rather see more narrow than wide. Very seldom you see those wide walking horses, unless you get one like Carson City.

Remembering that one of our goals here is to educate Blood-Horse readers, explain a bit about what you mean by the walls of the feet.

Welker: When you look from the front, his foot was a little bit narrow, from the coronet band out. His walls were a bit narrow. As he matures, that foot might grow out a little bit better. But it is something, certainly, that will get picked upon when you put him out there on the market.

Chace: I thought, like Bayne said, he had a short neck. Could get better. I thought he had a nice hip. He is kind of a plain-headed horse. He had good bone. I put down, again like Bayne was saying, that he had a short walk. He wasn't walking freely like I like to see them. I think he will get better. He was a bit offset in one knee. But again, I think he will get better.

Farrell: I thought he was beautifully balanced, has a lovely back leg, and a nice butt. When he walked away, I thought he broke in a little bit in his ankles behind. You would hope that he would strengthen up a little bit. When they are like that in their ankles, you obviously have to look at them again.

Welker: I thought a little bit of that might have been his immaturity.

Farrell: Oh yeah, I agree. He had that walk, that sort of shuffley walk, but a beautiful body. A nice bodied colt.

Moynihan: The first thing I noticed is I liked the balance of his body. The only thing that was out of balance a little bit for me is I would like to see, for the length of his body, a bit longer neck. He was a little short in his neck. And he was a little bit of a plain-headed horse. The one thing I did like about him is we know who the sire is, and he resembles the sire a whole lot. He resembles Storm Cat. You can see the pedigree working with this horse. He was a little bit out in one knee. That is something that could get a little worse, or it could get better, being that he is that late of a foal. I loved his hind leg, and I loved his hind end. Overall, he's a pretty nice horse.

Ward: You've got to understand that when I look at these things, I'm in a different position. I either buy them to be good or leave them alone. I'm only buying for one man, so I don't have any scale that I have to deal with. I've got to train them. If I buy the wrong one, I've got to eat him and live with him. I thought this colt, being a May 20 foal, he's small and he's going to remain small all his life, in my opinion. He toes out in both hind legs a little bit, and is a little bit close in his hocks. He's got the typical Stage Door Johnny look, the way their body style is. He's a little bit long-backed. He toes out in the right front and is offset in the right knee. I had him settin' in some in the left knee and wanting to toe in a little bit. He, in my opinion, is going to be a horse that is not going to be very big. My code for him is 'NMT'...not my type.

And you have to know what your type is.

Ward: That's exactly right. You have to know what you can live with and what you can't live with. I use a coding process when I'm looking at yearlings. I use two numbers and a letter. The first number is small, medium, or large being one, two, or three. The second is how athletic a horse is going to be, and that goes from a one to a five, and I've never given a five. And then I give a letter grading as to how  sound this horse is going to be: A-no problems; B-slight faults, no problems; C-faults but will probably stand racing; and the last one is an X, meaning I don't want any part of him. I graded this horse a 1-3-X.

Moynihan: I grade horses on a number scale. I graded this horse a five-plus. A six or seven is my highest. A seven I want to buy. Less than a six, I wouldn't consider buying the horse.

Bandoroff: I tried to pick a variety. He's a late foal. I didn't think he would be John's type. But to look at him, he looks like he will be precocious. He's not perfect in front. This colt has improved dramatically.

Welker: There will be somebody there (at the sale) for that colt.

Chace: He's going to get better, too.

Moynihan: To me, he really is a May 20 foal. Although he's immature, you see a lot of late May foals that are a lot smaller than he is. He's not overly immature.

Chace: He's a good body type. He catches your eye.

Moynihan: I've got a photographic memory when I see these horses. You remember them as yearlings. You say to yourself, 'small and will not grow.' Then you see them at a 2-year-old sale, see them come down through there,  and you think to yourself, 'that's that really small horse.' Guess what? You go look at him, and he's not small any more.

Bandoroff: We're doing something really interesting that we just started in the last year. We have a database that a feed company provides us, with about 10,000 horses. We weigh them and measure them every month. We've always weighed horses, but never measured them before. Then they get plotted on a graph. The weight doesn't tell you that much. You're really just looking at rate of growth. But the height is interesting because they are being compared to horses the same number of days old as they are. You look at one you think is small, but then you compare him to other horses foaled the same day. I find it really helpful. When they're a week old, you start to get that indication right then.

Chace: Well, they always told me a Greyhound could outrun a bull dog. (laughter)

Chace: I would rather have a big, fast horse than a small, fast horse. (laughter)

Bandoroff: Small is tough to sell. I'm glad I'm not a horse. (laughter)

One thing you can't see is a horse's heart, although you can measure them. What are things you look at to try and determine heart and desire?

Farrell: It is one thing that is very important to me to try and determine in just a couple of minutes. One thing I look at is their eye. I like to see a big eye on a horse. I think a lot of the good racehorses have a big, intelligent eye. Their ears are flickering. They are aware of everything that's going on. I think that relates to their heart. Obviously people talk about the depth of their girth and things like that but it is their mind that relates to their heart. If a horse comes out and looks at you and has a bit of presence and strong sense of himself, I think that translates on the racetrack.

Ward: I'm going to take this word heart as meaning the real machine, the real muscles. When I'm looking at heart as far as what you think his lung capacity and heart capacity is, horses that have a real wide chest, a real good shoulder, a sloping shoulder, a long range of motion in front, a good flared rib cage, plenty of room to have a big lung and a big heart. The reason I think shoulder and heart go together is the horse's lungs fill during the stride. You take a horse that has a straight shoulder and a short stride, that lung isn't going to be able to billow like it should. As far as a horse's disposition and heart, when you're looking at them as a yearling, this is an editorial comment: I don't pay attention to it anymore because I don't know if they have been medicated for the sale or not. Most of them, if they come out and act all screwy, I figure no one can find enough sedative to slow them so I just walk away from them. That's a reality. I figure consignors do their job to sell their horses. When you're buying horses, you have to live on both sides of the street. You have to live on the side that says this is a wonderful horse, and you have to live on the side that says, 'What is here that I'm not seeing?'

Moynihan: I think the desire coincides with a sense of intelligence. I want a good intelligent look on a horse and that coincides with a good head, a good eye. If they lose it when you're looking at them, they will lose it in the sale ring. You see how their disposition is with people crawling all over them at the sale ring. I've thought for certain I was going to buy a horse, and then seen how they react in that environment and backed off. In relation to the physical aspect of it, if a horse has a great shoulder, great breath of chest, great heart girth, you definitely want that. Horses that are straight, don't have a good slope to their shoul  der, they gather real quick, their lung capacity cannot be the same as a horse with a beautiful long sloping shoulder that will have a beautiful stride.

Welker: A good shoulder and deep heart girth, nice neck tied in to that, with a good range of motion. You want to see a good eye on a horse, a flat forehead with a well-set eye. There have been a few talented horses out there with a little eye, what they call a pig eye. But very few horses you buy have the athletic ability, the mindset, and the will to want to do it. You might find a horse with one of the three, but only a very small percentage you buy have all three of those factors. Those are what make the very good horses.

Let's go to yearling No. 2, the Storm Cat.

Ward: Well, since I was so critical of the first yearling. (laughter)

Opinionated, not critical. We asked you to be opinionated.

Ward: You're right. If you had not given me the breeding on this horse, I would never have guessed he was a Storm Cat. My grade system would be a 2-3-A. I could have made him a 2-4-A. My knock on the horse is he could be a little bit low in the back. But I've had other Storm Cats that give you that look and when they grow out they're not. I thought for a Storm Cat this colt had a good walk. He toed out just a hair behind but was really good. He toed out and faced out in the right front, and that doesn't bother me at all because he's very athletic the way he does it. You would have to prove to me with DNA parentage that this horse is by Storm Cat. He's got a good hindquarter and shoulder. He's a top prospect. Why they bred Storm Cat to an Exceller mare I will never know. Those are just the instincts. Must be one hell of a mare.

Moynihan: I like the horse. I agree with Johnny that he's a little, I'm not going to say low in his back, but real, real weak over his back. Sometimes that will improve as you start prepping this horse and getting the weight distribution where you want it. That will probably look a little bit better. I thought he was maybe a touch long in his pasterns. One thing I did notice, considering who he is by, he's what I would consider for a Storm Cat, he's dead correct. He's as correct as you could ever hope to get a Storm Cat. As soon as he walked out, I didn't even go around to his front end, I just wrote down, 'very correct for his sire.' I thought he maybe could be a hair bit taller for his age. But overall I like the horse. There is a little bit of coarseness to this horse that you don't see with a lot of Storm Cats.

Welker: I don't think we saw this colt at his absolute best. I think come September, he is going to be a much improved colt. He is very correct for his sire. If you had not put sires on here, like Johnny said, I would never have guessed he was by Storm Cat. To me, he is still light over his back, but with the amount of leg he has, he even looks a little long for his body. I think as he strengthens up there, and gets a little more leg up under him, he's going to look a little more in proportion with that back. Other than that, I thought he was pretty correct when he came to you. He had a little paddle in his left front but he walks well enough in front, and he got up underneath himself just fine. He will be a very marketable horse.

Ward: He's a $4-million horse.

You're making up quickly for what you said about the first yearling.

(laughter) Ward: I'm glad to see there's one out there like that.

Chace: I'm the same way. I would never have believed he is by Storm Cat. I had him as a kind of plain-headed horse, a nice long neck. What I said about him is long-barreled; kind of a long-barreled horse. He had a good walk. I liked him.

Farrell: I agree with everybody else. He's a big, rangy colt, and a little weak, just in front, along his back. I thought he's a later maturing type than the other colt and by September, he will come around very nicely. I thought he had a great look in his eye, and I liked the way he stood up. I actually thought he had a kind of Storm Cat look about his head. The body part was a little different. I agreed with John that he was a little long in his pasterns, but not slack in any way, shape, or form. A good walk, very correct. He will improve physically by September.

Moynihan: He's a horse you would look at, and irrespective of if you like him or not, you would bet he's a great mover. He looks like, the way he walks, his locomotion, he's very free, athletic, and a very good moving horse.

Everyone mentioned he didn't look like a Storm Cat. Who would like to lead off and discuss Storm Cat?

Ward: I will quote a famous veteri narian by the name of Robert Copelan, who has probably seen more Storm Cats than any one man alive: 'They are all offset in their knees; it's just they have to be equally offset in both knees.' Every Storm Cat I have seen has been a little offset in the knees, but they have such tremendous hind quarters on them, and that comes from Terlingua, because they run through it. The front end hardly stays on the ground long enough to be a detriment.

Welker: You're talking about horses with a powerful hind end. Most of them are short coupled, strong through their chests, offset in the knees, and they toe in. Some are complete disasters. I'll tell a story from Ric Waldman about the dam of Buddha. When they were trying to get Storm Cat off the ground, they had done foal shares, and they were going out checking the foal shares. This one was so bad, that they took her back and gave the people another season to breed her back to Storm Cat.

Moynihan: I bought her second foal. I looked at the mare when this foal was on the mare...an Unbridled filly when Unbridled's Song, a colt you bought, Buzz, was running for the Derby. I sold an Unbridled filly here, out of Cahooters, who ended up being the dam of Buddha.

Farrell: Believe it or not, I led her up to the ring that day. (laughter)

Moynihan: I remember.

Bandoroff: Is that bad that he doesn't look like a Storm Cat?

Ward: I think it's a definite advantage. I have to eliminate so many Storm Cats. You get one like this...

Welker: I think he'll be a standout.

Ward: And again, when you look at a horse like this, in the side of the game we're in, you're looking for, if you are right, the appreciation as a stallion. All of a sudden you've got a Storm Cat that you say, 'If I make him a grade I winner, he becomes an extremely valuable stallion prospect because he's one of the few of the line that are correct.'

Chace: Correct plus he looks like he will run long.

Ward: Right, he looks like a mile-and-a-quarter horse.

Bandoroff: You all touched on the back. If the back stays there, is that a big detriment to the horse if everything else stays nice? 

Moynihan: No.

Ward: The indication there is whenever you see a horse that the back catches your eye at this age, you have to worry about whether or not it's going to stay like it is or it's going to get worse. So you always have to be cautious.

Chace: I think he's a long-barreled horse and that's in proportion to his hind leg, his withers, his neck, and everything. I just think it's in proportion. And hopefully it's going to look better.

Moynihan: People put so much emphasis on the fact this horse is so correct in his front end that if he had some other shortcoming--in this case maybe it would be the back--they'd go quickly by that because of all the other positives.

Chace: The other side of the story is he may not be able to run a yard. (laughter)

Ward: The other thing that would make you go heavy on this horse is if you saw the mare and this horse's body style matched the mare, you'd really go heavy on this horse.

Chace: I'd agree with that.

Bandoroff: Anytime you want to come over...(laughter)

What are things people should know when looking at knees and legs, if you're trying to educate people?

Ward: I think knees and legs don't have to be totally straight, but what you have to look at is the biomechanics. Essentially you want the bones in the legs to load evenly and equally across the joint. As long as you have got an even loading and all the weight doesn't go to one side of the joint or the other, then the horse has got a good chance of racing. It's the deviations in the joints when all the concussion lands either on the inside or the outside is where you have unsoundness problems.

Moynihan: I'm looking for alignment. If a horse is a little offset but he walks through it well...and it's hard to define unless you have pictures to show you...but some horses that are a little offset there's still some alignment there. You see some horses that are offset and you can just, if you can picture the concussion coming down the horse's leg, it's going to come all to the inside of a joint or all to the outside of a joint, and those are the things, if you can forecast that just by looking at a horse, you'd stay away from.

Welker: I have to be in total agreement with that. If I'm there with a client and he has a crooked horse, it doesn't mean he isn't going to run fast and he isn't going to win some races. What you're talking about is the soundness--how long is he going to stay sound?

Moynihan: When I look at a horse, relative to everything from the legs down, psychologically I look at that as longevity of the horse. I don't look at that as ability of the horse. I hear so many people come to a sale and see a correct horse, and they say, 'That's a good horse.' To me, the legs are longevity, the degree of correctness or crookedness determines what you would predict as able to stay sound long or not stay sound long. What's on top--the body, the frame, the neck, the withers, the back, the hind end, that to me is relative to the ability of the horse. You have to mesh those two things. If a horse comes out and he's not engineered to run, I don't care if he's correct or incorrect.

By the same token, if a horse is dead correct, and he's not engineered to run, the horse has got to have the engineering for me to look at him any further. If he doesn't have what I'm looking for, it doesn't matter to me what the legs look like because I'm done looking for him.

Chace: I agree with John. You get pretty scientific about how he's going to put his foot down this way or that way. Last spring I was in Maryland and a kid who works at Taylor Made was with me and asked if he could walk around with me and we went around and looked at a horse and I said, 'That's a nice horse.' And he said, 'Look at his knees. I don't like his knees. Look at the way his knees are.' And I said, 'When they look like that they can usually run and I don't worry about his knees.' That horse was New York Hero, who won the Lane's End. That's what I have to say on that subject.

Moynihan: I'm sure Buzz and people who buy horses, and Craig, you'll attest to this, you've probably sold horses that, before you went to the sale, you'd deem crooked. But if they are engineered beautifully on top, even if the buyer knows they're crooked, you will get us...I'll go back and try to talk myself into the deal. I fall in love with a certain type of horse.

Bandoroff: One of the most frustrating things is you get these first-lookers who are looking for other people, and they have to be correct or they're not going to make the short list. They're missing a lot of nice horses that aren't dead correct.

Chace: That's why it's tough for me to have someone else look at horses. A lot of people want to look at horses for me and I'll stand in the back ring and I didn't even look at the horse they have on their list. Or how did they miss this horse? I'd buy him in the three minutes I'm looking at him.

It's kind of tough to have someone else doing your thing and have you be comfortable with. I can bend a lot with conformation faults.

Farrell: As someone who does first-looks, I actually have to say to myself, first off, 'Is this a racehorse or not?' Then, you're looking for the mechanics of the horse. It's very hard because you don't want to show too many horses. I looked at horses for Kenny McPeek a few years ago and he said, 'I don't care if they do whatever with their legs, but if they have a frame that looks like they can be a classic-type horse, I want to see them and I want to kick them out.' And that's something I've tried to keep in my head when I'm looking: 'Will this be a racehorse down the road?' Then it's up to the person to make their own decisions in the next step.

Ward: A fast horse with unsoundness is going to do a whole lot better than a slow horse that's sound. (laughter)

Part One | Part Two | Part Three