Back in 1986, I was disappointed to lose the sale of a horse based on pre - purchase x-rays taken by an old ‘boss’ and acclaimed equine veterinarian Dr. William O. Reed. A few years passed and I became aware of new clinical information. The recent 'find' during a clear-out of an old racing jacket prompted some reflection on the value of keeping up to date with new scientific findings and embracing 'life-long learning'.
After a few unspectacular runs as a two year old in Germany in 1981, the bay filly JASMINA (GER) owned by German industrialist Dr. Herbert Schnapka joined my Curragh training operation in early Spring of 1982. In May, running in a Dundalk maiden (ridden by Sal Martinez) she proved a convincing gambled on winner (16/1-8/1) from a big field. A month later, I found myself swapping a career as a racehorse trainer in Ireland to that of Vice President and General Manager of Clermont Farms (owned by Dr.Schnapka) in Upstate New York with over 200 horses there, including a large breeding and training operation.
Annual visits home through the 80’s were always used as scouting missions for prospective US Equine Imports. One such visit, in October 1985, yielded a grey colt called HIGHLY RATED (IRE) .When he arrived in Belmont Park with a clean Irish Veterinary certificate, much interest from trainers was evident as the colt had racecourse form. A deal was agreed with trainer Vince Cincotta, with a proviso of a vet examination through his veterinarian Dr. William Reed with whom I had interned at Belmont Park in 1968 (as a newly graduated Irish Veterinarian). Alarmingly, Dr. Reed failed him on the grounds of O.C.D. (Osteochondrosis) lesions in both hock joints.
There I was, in New York in December, with a ‘grass’ horse and no grass racing there until the following April. Four months away! It was decision time. Do I send him to a Florida based trainer for the winter or train him myself for the Winter / Spring months in New York with a view to a late Spring /Summer grass campaign? I chose the latter but needed a New York trainer’s license. Enquiries to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board were very helpful. On producing my original Irish trainers license, a letter of good standing from the Irish Turf Club and 20 dollars, I was good to go as they say with my newly minted New York trainers license. On the track, few knew me and I had a horse to sell …. The R.J McCormick Stables jacket was customized for morning wear on the famed Belmont Park backstretch. HIGHLY RATED (IRE) ran twice on the Aqueduct dirt ridden by Eclipse Award winning apprentice Declan Murphy. His fitness was maintained and when the 4h of July rolled around, HIGHLY RATED (IRE) was entered in a mile maiden on grass on the famed Belmont Turf course. Ridden this time by Triple Crown winning jockey (aboard SEATTLE SLEW (USA), Frenchman Jean Cruguet, HIGHLY RATED (IRE) ran well under a strong left hand drive to be second to a A.G.Vanderbilt colt trained by Dave Whitely. My phone rang five times that night from various trainers. Three days later, after a successful vetting , HIGHLY RATED (IRE) joined the Mary Cotter stable for $55K. The jacket was mothballed.
Eight years later (1994), while undertaking a Reproductive and Lameness course in Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, I purchased my first copy of Adam’s Lameness in Horses which was very kindly signed for me by the author Dr. Ted Stashak. Quickly I reviewed the Hock Radiographs and to my consternation on page 245, item 22 it stated the following: “Medial trochlear ridge of the talus: the small bony projection on the distal part of the medial trochlear ridge is variable in size and shape and should not be mistaken for a peri-articular osteophyte or any other bony abnormality”. I was flabbergasted. Had Dr Reed been wrong in 1986 in his assertion of OCD lesions in HIGHLY RATED (IRE) ‘s hocks all those years ago? It cost me the sale of my horse but subsequently resulted in a newly minted Trainers jacket and later a significant margin of profit.
Needless to say, I kept the four radiographs (two from each hock) from 1986. Unfortunately they are not digital as such technology wasn’t available then. But the question still stands: Normal variation or bony abnormality? Comments welcome from equine veterinarians.
Radiographs available by kind permission of Dr. Richard J. McCormick, Licensed Veterinarian (2021)