A Case Study: North American Pedigrees Down Under
Dr. Hiram C. Polk Jr. Dr. Hiram C. Polk Jr. - Member, Thoroughbred Safety Committee

Dr. Hiram C. Polk Jr.: Thank you, Matt. Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, for more than two decades our industry has been criticized for our inattention to serious issues and our inability to cooperatively solve them. In fact, since 2008 many of you in this room have contributed to really measurable industry progress.

These current improvements can be traced to the work of Dell Hancock at the first welfare and safety summit at Keeneland in 2006. In 2010, Mr. Janney enumerated at this very meeting several questions in need of answers regarding race day medication, one of which was whether the prolonged use of furosemide (Lasix) potentially weakens the breed. This new data speaks to that question.

The purpose of this report is to focus on new information in light of race day medication use in the ancestors of current race horses. There have been several studies of furosemide and its real and imagined benefits. But a stalemate exists as the wisest role in the medication rules.

Please focus your attention in the next few minutes on observations that are analogous to experiments of nature that turn out to be helpful in human medicine. In this information, the precise electronic data sets on Australian racing, beginning with their foal crop of 1995. Racing Information Services of Australia has accumulated a substantial database. We chose to examine this data as a whole and for three specific groups of horses based on their performance in Australian racing.

Why would you choose Australia? First of all, they had the data. Secondly, race day medications are not used there. It was the subject of a lengthy interview in the Blood-Horse a year or so ago, and they had to address this in detail. Also, they have more than 400 racetracks in their country, and it is the most active site, by far, for shuttle stallions from the Northern Hemisphere.

And finally, we'd have to admit they've produced the best sprinters in the world for the last few years.

Let's examine this pedigree and tell you what we're talking about. Those are the 14 ancestors we're going to deal with today, and we're going to simply count them. This has been recommended by some respected bloodline analysts as being sufficient. So everything is based on the first 14 ancestors in those three generations. They all count as one. Say, for example, the sire and the third dam each equal one.

From the data set involved, this remarkable number of horses, 147,000 horses making 2.3 million starts, we have a selected group that I'll describe in some detail that represents 14,000 horses making 250,000 starts. Today, we're going to examine that lineage with respect to a horse's racing career in North America.

We chose three categories of horses for our further statistical comparison based on the starts in North America by their sires and dams, unraced horses don't count.

Let me define these a little better. We also assumed it was 90 is a little better. The 100% category includes horses that raced only in North America. The 0% horses that raced anywhere but America, and the 50 50 thing is an unusual collection of horses that had exactly equal numbers of starts in their parentage from Australia and from North America.

The purpose of our analysis is to determine whether or not there is a traceable alteration of the gene pool by frequent prior exposure to race day medication in the horse's ancestors, in this case measured by their performance in Australian racing. When these horses were placed into three categories as shown here, you see a small number of horses, and a large number with no North American blood, and a huge number of starts that we were able to study.

That bottom line is also important because it suggests that the majority of the ancestors did raise the problem of the unraced horse and the exposure to medicine is somewhat ameliorated across all three groups.

Let's go to five focal points that we're going to analyze for you today and hope you'll find sense and reason. How many starts did a horse make in his career? How frequently could those horses run? What distances did they run? What speed did they achieve, and what did they earn in number of career starts?

In each of these you're going to see the 100, 50, and 0 across the line. And the dotted line is the mean of the 147,000 horses and 2.3 million starts. I think you can see here that the North American heavily raced bred horses raced more frequently for a career. They had shorter time between races and if you go to the next point, they raced slightly longer, about 7 furlongs, these are in meters, of course, 7 furlongs compared to the lower 50 and zero percent group.

Finally, if you calculate the speed per quarter mile, they're nearly the same. Less than a half-length difference between the groups.

Finally, the career earnings shows what perhaps many people would call hybrid vigor is really true to some degree, but certainly the two North American ancestry groups had reasonably high performance. I do think that the aberration in Australia is due to some unusual purse things there, and that will come up for further discussion and study later.

I want to point out for people who are statisticians: the medians followed the means uniformly and exactly across each and every one of these present points.

Inevitably this kind of study stimulates further queries. We need to do more.

I do want to mention some concerns we'd like to share with you this morning. Some of our reservations include whether perhaps we should exclude horses who earn less than $1,000 in a career. Perhaps we should exclude races longer than the Melbourne Cup, 2 miles. Perhaps we should exclude horses that never once raced at one of the 17 elite tracks in Australia.

There are concerns about incomplete data for medication use in South America, and you can perhaps drop those out of here. And I mentioned the unusual purse structure, that's really important. The Golden Slipper is run at six furlongs on the turf in the middle of the 2 year old year. There are some aberrations since that purse is always twice as high as any other purse in the country.

I know that we're going to prepare this [study] for publication, and we'll try to answer some of these questions as well. I've covered a lot of ground this morning in some technical language, but the bottom line remains; just as Matt said earlier, this is a particularly timely for all of us, performance-influencing medication today is the number one news and public interest issue for all major athletic competitions worldwide. This is not a narrow issue. It's the broadest of broad issues that face competitive sports.

We believe these data prove that three generations of North American Thoroughbreds are not genetically tainted, even when raced and presumptively exposed to race day medications.

The horses made more starts, fewer days between races, at longer distance, similar speed, and similar career earnings. These data also conform and confirm that North American Thoroughbreds do not require Lasix in order to race competitively at multiple levels overseas.

Thank you for your attention.

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