Filly or Colt?
There are only a few windows when vets can use scanning devices to determine the sex of a foal — a factor that will shape the trajectory of a horse’s career. We were present for the exam of two of our mares, and the results are in.
A Time To Celebrate
Only a few hours after dawn, the sun had picked up and Bonnaterra A, the barn just down the hill from the boarding office at Taylor Made Farm was heating up. The weather in Lexington is famously moody, and even summer days can be cool, but on this morning in mid-July the temperature was pushing ninety and the big fans were out in the barn and blowing.
Along the shedrow, we stared at the pixely screen of an ultra-sound machine as Dr. Kevin Hyde, one of the veterinarians on call, went in for another reading. He held the transducer probe in his fingers, then submerged every part of his arm—hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, then bicep—into the hindquarters of Colerful Bride, one of three mares we’ll choosing from later this fall as part of the The People’s Horse, our project to crowdsource the first racehorse.
Earlier this year, she was bred to California Chrome, our stallion, and she had reached the 42-day period of her pregnancy, and one of the only periods when vets can take a reading to determine the gender.
“That’s the hock,” Hyne said, moving his arm around and referring to the back of the horse’s hind leg. At this stage, only a few weeks after doctors are able to determine the mare is actually pregnant, it’s hard to identify the parts of a foal with an ultra-sound reading.
A Complicated Choice
The gender of a racehorse is a critical factor in the thoroughbred industry. For years, many have complained about a gender gap on the track. Colts generally run faster and are entered in more high-profile races that carry higher purses. And if they’re not gelded, colts can retire as studhorses.
Fillies have different careers. While some fillies have drawn large purses and followings like Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, the majority of fillies that show heart and talent on the track are retired for breeding. Generally speaking, broodmares are more valuable to racehorse owners who can collect a brood, or band of them. The reality of racing is that very few horses ever make to the racetrack. Among those that do, only a fraction go on to win consecutive races and continue to move up in class. Often hampered by a myriad of uncontrollable factors—injuries, bad luck, poor jockeying, and on—the sport becomes a numbers game. The more horses you can breed, the better chances you have of developing The One.
That’s where the brood of mares comes in. With a family of mares in the barn, an owner can continuously breed to a variety of stallions, hoping to strike a winning offspring. It’s all a numbers game—experimenting with genetics and chemistry, searching for the right pair. Or just waiting to get lucky.
Filly vs. Colt?
Sixtyfivenorth, the youngest of our mares, was the first to be bred to California Chrome. We’ll be sharing more of her story soon, but she trained at the Indiana Grand Race Course, one of the lower-tier tracks in the Midwest. She struggled for more than a year before winning her first race, and after thirteen starts had earned under $30,000. After retirement, she was placed in the Keeneland September sale. Conducting deep research on her pedigree, Les Brinfield, an equine genetics guru, found something notable in her past. Sixty, he felt, was an ideal match for California Chrome. Even though Sixty was from the Midwest and Chrome was from California, they had similar ancestry, and a pairing we’ll reveal later on.
Brinfield advises Taylor Made Farm, and recommended purchasing Sixty as a mate for Chrome. They did so and she was among his first covers this year. Back in April, Dr. Hyde performed a similar sexing. You can watch the video here and below.
Behind The Screen
Only five days later, Dr. Hyde was back in the Taylor Made barns with his ultra-sound equipment. Barbara Orr, the most mature and experienced of our mares, was ready for her examination. Once again, Hyde slipped on the finger-to-shoulder glove and waved the wand around inside her. Here’s the video of his exam.
What Do You Think?
With Barbara expecting a boy and Sixty a filly, we were anxious about Colerful’s results. Would she be carrying a colt and thus put her in direct competition with Barbara Orr? Or would she be carrying a filly and put her in competition with Sixty? And how would the gender breakdown determine our upcoming vote on the mares this December? Would the members prefer a boy? Or girl? Did the gender matter? If so, what was the best way to think about the differences between a colt or filly?
Back at Bonneterra A, Dr. Hyde continued his work.
“It’s just a little bit immature,” he said, looking at the screen. “It’s on the earlier window we can do it.”
With his arm inside the horse, he made adustments until a clearer picture came over the screen.
“There’s nothing there,” he said, analyzing the pelvic area. “This is definitely a filly.”
“Are you absolutely certain?” Steve Avery, the Taylor Made Farm manager, asked. He’s been working with horse so long he’s seen foals diagnosed as fillys and come out colts (and vice versa).
“Let me take another look,” Dr. Hyde said, and plunged his arm once again inside Colerful Bride. Once he got a reading, he pointed towards the monitor in front of him.
“So, this is a hock, this his a hock,” he said, and went on. “This is a tail. This is a head. These two little white lines...definitely a filly. One hundred percent sure.”
Avery, the farm manager, felt the predicament in the air.
“Two fillies and a colt,” he said. “I think people would rather want a colt.”
But would they? And do you? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll pass around the feedback in our next report. Meanwhile: have you RSVP’d for our Member’s Summit? Our 19th century Georgian Manor awaits.