The large Thoroughbred sales radiology study led by Colorado State University's Orthopaedic Research Center veterinarians Drs. Wayne McIlwraith, Frances Peat and Chris Kawcak, and Dr. Jeff Berk from Lexington, KY., has gained widespread support as it continues its successful run. This study investigates two of the most often discussed controversial issues at sales by buyers, sellers and veterinarians alike: radiographic findings in the proximal sesamoid bones of the fetlock, with associated suspensory branch changes, and radiographic findings in the medial femoral condyle of the stifle. The study commenced at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, involving 2,795 yearlings, and continued through the 2-year-old sales in 2017. Researchers were able to follow 78 percent of all eligible 2-year-olds that had consignor permission for radiographic inclusion in the study as yearlings, due to great understanding within the industry of the need for this research.
Studies of this sheer size require considerable research funding. Three major industry organizations have recognized the need for this research and its potential to positively impact the Thoroughbred industry, as it seeks to uncover critically sought-after information regarding the significance of sesamoiditis and stifle lesions. The Keeneland Association has committed $100,000 towards the successful completion of this work. Fasig-Tipton Company has also made a $50,000 commitment towards the research. The Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation has approved a grant application submitted by the researchers for an additional $143,624. Researchers are now in the final phase of collecting funding contributions from private donors who believe in the value of this study and are in a position to support it financially.
Since repositories were introduced to Thoroughbred auction houses in the 1990s, a degree of uniformity in radiology has developed, particularly for OCD lesions. However, some radiographic changes remain a persistent source of controversy for sellers, buyers, trainers and veterinarians. That is why sesamoiditis and lucencies or subchondral cystic lesions (SCLs) of the medial femoral condyle are the focus of this study. An initial study prior to both digital radiographs and the repository system was performed 15 years ago, by Drs. McIlwraith, Kane, Park, Rantanen, Moorhead and Bramlage. A second study prior to digital radiographs was performed by Dr. Spike-Pierce and Bramlage. These studies led to more questions about sesamoiditis and could not address the stifle lesion question at all because of the lack of digital radiographs.
Since then, there has been investigation of sesamoiditis relative to development of suspensory ligament branch injury by Drs. McLellan and Plevin in Florida. A study that specifically investigates sales horses and follows them at yearling and 2-year-old sales with radiographic and ultrasonographic examination (as appropriate) has never been performed.
The first phase of the study was conducted at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale with excellent collaboration from the sales company and consignors. Consignors presenting yearlings at this sale were asked permission to include the yearlings in the radiographic and/or ultrasonographic portions of this study. Radiographic permission was granted by 71 consignors, resulting in a total of 2,795 yearlings, or 74 percent of all yearlings presented for sale that had radiographs available. Of these 2,795 yearlings, suspensory branch ultrasonography on 704 horses was performed on farms before they shipped to Keeneland. The radiographs have been evaluated for changes in the sesamoid bones and the medial femoral condyles of the stifles. The ultrasound images will be evaluated for abnormalities involving the suspensory ligament branches at their insertion onto the sesamoid bones.
The second phase of this project followed horses that had radiographs included in the study as Keeneland September yearlings, to five of the major two-year-old sales in 2017: the Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Sale, OBS Select Sale, OBS Spring Sale, Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Sale and OBS June Sale. Permission for inclusion in the second phase of the study was granted by 45 breeze-up consignors, for 78 percent of eligible horses. This amounted to 473 juveniles on which to evaluate radiographs and 415 of these horses also had suspensory branch ultrasounds performed for the study prior to the under tack shows. Researchers will again evaluate the sesamoid bone/suspensory branch complex and the radiographic stifle lucencies in this group of horses.
The third phase of the project will follow the racing performance of these horses, culminating at the end of their 3-year-old year. Paired radiographs and ultrasound images will enable the progression, regression, or static nature of certain radiographic and ultrasonographic findings to be studied, under the conditions in which these sale horses are managed.
“This study is badly needed,” said Berk, whose equine veterinary career exclusively involves sales work. “Critical decisions have to be made at the sale that affect both consignors and potential buyers that preclude sales of horses when the decision is sometimes based on no evidence of a given lesion leading to unsoundness.”
“Modern medicine decisions are supposed to be based on evidence, and these two problems are excellent examples of decisions being made without adequate data,” said McIlwraith. “No evidence-based work has been published that pairs yearling and 2-year-old sale radiographs for individual horses.”
This study will be the largest of its kind and will yield information that will be extremely useful to those involved in the selection process of sales horses. It will aid veterinarians in providing their buying and selling clients with a more accurate assessment of the significance of these findings. It will also help those in the Thoroughbred industry gain an understanding that not all radiographic findings are contributory factors to any given horse's suitability for racing. With the cooperation of the sales companies, consignors, owners, and veterinarians, this study has gained great traction. All those involved in the sales process stand to benefit from this much needed, and now highly anticipated, information.
Funding contributions from the Keeneland Association ($100,000), Fasig-Tipton Company ($500,000) and, most recently, the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation ($143,624). This totals $293,624. Substantial cost savings in the second year of the study have also enabled a reduction in the overall budget to $425,000 for completion of the research. The researchers are now looking to individuals, farms or organizations, who believe in the importance of this research and are in a position to support it financially, to contribute to the remaining $135,000 required for the study. Donations in the region of $5000 from 25 individuals, farms or organizations would complete the researchers' fund-raising efforts. Parties interested in making a contribution to the study through Colorado State University may contact [email protected].
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