Hospital treatment as a foal does not adversely affect future sales performance in Thoroughbred horses
Part of these data were presented at the Association des Vétérinaires Equins Français Meeting, Roissy, France on 29 January 2011.
Reasons for performing study: Many Thoroughbred foals are intended to be sold at public auction. The impact of disease conditions necessitating hospital treatment as a foal on future sales performance is unknown.
Objectives: To determine whether Thoroughbred horses that were treated in a hospital before age 125 days and presented to public auction sell for a different mean price than controls.
Methods: Foals aged <125 days, treated at a hospital in Ireland in 2007 or 2008 and presented for sale to a public auction recorded on a publicly accessible database were selected for inclusion in the study. The sales outcome of these subjects was compared to that of 6 controls for each subject, consisting of the 3 horses that were presented to the same sale immediately before and immediately after the subject. Results were controlled for the sale at which the animal presented and the sex of the subject and controls.
Results: Sixty-three subjects were presented to public auction: 19 at the foal sales, 39 at the yearling sales and 5 at the 2-year-old sales. Forty-five subjects were sold. There was no difference in the mean sales price (subjects €38,207; controls €35,026) or percentage of animals sold (subjects 71.4%; controls 66.4%) between subjects and controls.
Conclusions: If Thoroughbred horses are presented for public auction following hospital treatment as a foal, there is no impact on sales outcome.
Potential relevance: This information may help commercial breeders of Thoroughbred foals make informed decisions about treatment of their foals.
Thoroughbred foals can suffer from a variety of disease conditions during the first year of life (Galvin and Corley 2010). It is important to know the long-term effects of these diseases, so that informed decisions can be made at the outset of treatment. Several studies have examined the racing performance of horses that were treated in hospitals as foals (Axon et al. 1999; Steel et al. 1999; Smith et al. 2004; Sanchez et al. 2008; Neil et al. 2010). However, the aim of many Thoroughbred breeders is not to race the offspring of their mares but rather to sell them. There are few studies evaluating the sales performance of animals receiving veterinary care. An early study described the sales performance of intensive care foals but did not compare them to controls (Baker et al. 1986). A recent study compared the sales performance of animals treated for angular limb deformities with sibling controls (Baker et al. 2011).
This study aimed to evaluate the sales performance of Thoroughbred horses that were hospitalised as foals. This information, together with information on survival statistics for the given condition in the hospital where it is treated, as well as the costs of treatment (Corley et al. 2003), may allow commercial operations to make informed decisions regarding treatment of seriously ill foals.
Materials and methods
Foals aged <125 days at admission, presented to Anglesey Lodge Equine Hospital, were eligible for inclusion in this study. Foals presented for surgery to correct a noninfectious orthopaedic problem and healthy foals accompanying their sick dams were excluded. A prospective spreadsheet (Excel 2008 for Mac)a was kept for each foal admitted to the hospital between 1 January 2007 and 30 June 2008. Data recorded included the names of the dam and stallion as supplied by the connections (owner, agent, stud manager and/or groom) of the foal at hospital admission, the complaint at presentation, the final diagnosis, whether the foal received total parenteral nutrition (TPN), the duration of hospital treatment, the final hospital bill and the outcome of hospital treatment.
Each animal was searched for by its dam's name on the Racing Post databaseb. If there was no match for the supplied dam's name, spelling variations of the name were tried. In this case, the foal was presumed to be that which presented to the hospital if the dam's name was similar to that supplied, the stallion's name on the Racing Post database for her offspring in the relevant year matched that which the connections supplied, and the birth date given in the database or in the relevant sales catalogue was within 2 weeks of that supplied by connections. Animals where the stallion's name was not supplied by connections and the supplied dam's name did not exactly match the Racing Post database were recorded as insufficient information.
Animals were presumed to have been bred for flat or National Hunt racing based on their stallion. Where stallions were dual-purpose, with significant numbers of offspring racing under both rules, the sale the animal was entered for or the race record of other offspring of the dam was used to determine whether the foal was flat-bred or National Hunt bred.
Sales data recorded on the Racing Post databaseb were used to identify animals presented for public sale between 1 January 2007 and 30 June 2010. If animals presented to more than one sale, the first sale that the animal presented to was used.
The sales data recorded included the date and venue of the sale, whether the animal was sold, sold to vendor or unsold, and the sales price or the final price at which the animal was passed for sale. All sales prices were converted to Euros, using the European Central Bank (ECB) exchange ratec for the day of the sale.
The advertised stallion nomination fee was obtained from the Racing Post databaseb. The advertised fee for 2006 was used for foals born in 2007, and for 2007 for those born in 2008. All stallion fees paid in 2006 and 2007 were converted to Euros using the ECB exchange ratesc,d for 1 October 2006 or 1 October 2007, respectively.
There were 6 controls for each subject. This was decided empirically before collecting any data. Controls were selected as the 3 horses presented for sale immediately before the subject, and the 3 horses presented for sale immediately after the subject. These sales group horses by their age, purpose and perceived quality. Horses catalogued but withdrawn from sale were not included as controls. If the subject presented as one of the first 3 lots of the sale, as many controls as possible were taken before the subject and then the balance of the 6 controls was taken from horses presented immediately after the subject. No subjects presented as one of the final 3 lots of a sale. The sex of the control animal was recorded. Data collected for controls included whether they were returned sold, unsold or sold to vendor, the sales price or the final price at which the animal was passed for sale and the advertised stallion fee for the year immediately prior to birth. All prices were converted to Euros, as described for the subjects.
Analyses were carried out using the R statistical language, version 2.12.1 (R Development Core Team 2010).
The data collected for each subject and control included date and place of sale, whether the animal was sold, the final price at auction (whether sold or unsold), the sex of the animal, the advertised stallion fee, the age of the animal at time of sale (foal, yearling or 2-year-old) and whether they were bred for flat or National Hunt racing. For subjects, additional data collected included whether they were aged <7 days at time of hospital admission and whether they were treated with TPN. Data were log transformed. To estimate the effects on horse prices, linear models predicting (log-transformed) prices were used.
Base models included Sale and Sex of horses as control variables (except where factors such as TPN covaried with Sale, in which case the base model included Sex). F-ratios were generated reflecting the additional variance explained by each new predictor once predictors entered earlier into the models had been accounted for. Where outcome variables were binary (such as whether horses were sold or not), generalised linear models with a logit link function were used. In these cases, improvements to model fit were evaluated using Chi-square tests of explained deviance.
Simple contingency tables were evaluated using Chi-square, with Yates' correction for continuity. Results were considered significant if the P value was <0.05.
Between 1 January 2007 and 30 June 2008, 227 foals were treated, of which 171 (75%) were discharged from the hospital. Of the survivors, 147 (86%) were Thoroughbred foals, 78 of which were bred for flat racing, and 60 to race under National Hunt rules. For 9 of the surviving Thoroughbred foals, insufficient information was supplied at admission to identify whether they were bred for flat or National Hunt racing or whether they were presented to public sales.
Sixty-three of the surviving Thoroughbred foals were presented for sale at a public auction recorded on the Racing Post database between 1 July 2007 and 31 July 2010. The 63 foals came from 49 different farms or small holdings. There were 49 flat-bred horses presented for sales, representing 63% of the flat-bred foals that were treated and survived in 2007–2008. There were 14 National Hunt-bred horses presented for sales, representing 23% of the National Hunt-bred foals that were treated and survived in 2007–2008. Nineteen animals were presented for sale as foals, 39 were taken to the sales as yearlings and 5 as 2-year-olds.
Hospital treatment of foals
The details of hospital treatment for the 63 horses that went to public auction are as follows: the age of foals at hospital presentation ranged from 0 h (delivered at the hospital) to 124 days, with an average of 20.3 days and a median of 4 days. Thirty-six (57%) of the foals were neonates (age <7 days) at the time of hospital admission. Forty-eight (76%) of the foals were male.
Twenty-eight (44.4%) of the foals had a primary diagnosis of enterocolitis, including one with an additional diagnosis of partial duodenal stricture. Seven foals were presented for colic, one of which underwent surgery for an inguinal hernia. Five foals presented with septic joints; in 2 foals this involved more than one joint. Four foals presented with pneumonia. Four foals had a diagnosis of septicaemia, including 2 that additionally had a diagnosis of perinatal asphyxia syndrome and one foal that was mechanically ventilated for 3 days. Four further foals had a diagnosis of perinatal asphyxia syndrome without septicaemia. Three foals were born at the hospital from a high-risk pregnancy, one of which had a dystocia during delivery. Two foals were dysmature, including one that also had acute renal failure. Two foals had severe carpal contraction. Two foals presented with severe internal parasitism resulting in wasting. One foal had a fractured pelvis. One foal presented with failure of passive transfer and suspected early septicaemia, but did not go on to develop clinical signs of septicaemia.
Thirty-three (52%) of the foals were treated with TPN (TPN), including 24 with a primary diagnosis of enterocolitis. Twenty-one foals treated with TPN were neonates at hospital admission. Four foals that did not receive TPN were treated with a continuous i.v. glucose infusion as nutritional support. The average length of hospital stay was 6.3 days, with a median of 5 days and a range of 1–19 days. Mean ± s.d. hospital bill was €2128 ± 1952, with a median of €1662 (interquartile range €1156–€1995).
Nineteen subjects were presented at the foal sales, 39 at the yearling sales and 5 at the 2-year-old sales. Forty-five horses were sold (38 flat-bred, 7 National Hunt-bred) and 18 horses were reported as unsold (passed) or sold to vendor (bought in). The clearance rate was 71.4% for all of the horses, 78% for the flat-bred and 50% for the National Hunt bred animals. Information about the sales price for sold horses is given in Table 1.
Table 1. Sales data from 45 hospitalised foals that were later sold at public auction
There was no significant difference in the mean price subjects were sold at, bought in for (purchased on behalf of the vendor) or passed at (did not reach their reserve price) for animals that were (€31,180) or were not (€31,596) aged <7 days at time of hospital admission. This was also the case for subjects that were (€34,276) or were not (€28,148) treated with TPN during their hospitalisation (P>0.2). There was no difference in the proportion of animals sold at auction for those treated as neonates or treated with TPN compared to those that were not (P>0.6 for both cases). The hospital bill varied from 1.1–194% of the sales price, with an average of 16%.
Comparison with controls
There were 378 controls collected for the 63 subjects, 247 (65.3%) of which were male. As sex of the animal was a possible confounding factor for the sales price, this was controlled for in the statistical analysis.
There was no significant difference in mean advertised stallion fee between subjects and their controls for flat-bred horses (subjects €18,966; controls €18,747; P>0.2) or National Hunt-bred horses (subjects €4987; controls €4614; P = 0.098). Of the 378 controls, 251 were reported sold, giving a clearance rate of 66.4%, which was not different from subjects (P = 0.432). For horses sold at the sales, there was no difference between subjects and their controls for the mean sales, stallion fee or sales price minus the stallion fee for subjects and their controls (Table 2).
Table 2. Comparison of 45 sold hospitalised horses and their controls at time of sale
There was no difference in the mean price that subjects were sold at, bought in for or passed at compared to their controls for subjects that presented to the hospital as neonates (P = 0.127) or those that were treated with TPN (subjects €34,276; controls €25,114, P = 0.074). There was no difference in the mean price that subjects were sold at, bought in for or passed at compared to their controls for those presented to auction as foals, as yearlings or as 2-year-olds.
Effect of stallion fee
For sold horses only (both subjects and controls), each Euro spent on the advertised stallion fee resulted in an increase in price achieved at the sales of €0.89 (P = 0.044). For flat-bred sold horses (both subjects and controls), each Euro spent on the advertised stallion fee resulted in an increase in price achieved at the sales of €1.08 (P<0.001).
The advertised stallion fee for subjects varied from 10% to 1500% of the sales price achieved, with an average of 191%. The advertised stallion fee for control horses varied from 7% to 1536% of the sales price achieved, with an average of 227%.
In the study population we demonstrated that, for Thoroughbred horses that are presented to public auction, there is no price disadvantage of having been treated in a hospital prior to age 125 days.
This population consisted of foals with a variety of disease conditions. Forty-four percent of the sales foals were treated for enterocolitis, which is subjectively in line with the hospital foal case-mix over the last 5 years. It is possible that hospitals with a different case-mix might find different results. As with the majority of veterinary studies, some foals that would have been eligible for inclusion were subjected to euthanasia as a result of the combination of prognosis and economics of treatment. It is possible that a minority of these animals might have survived to be presented at the sales and that this may therefore introduce some bias into the results.
There are many factors that influence the price achieved at public auction for Thoroughbred horses. These might include the extended pedigree of the horse, including race and reproductive performance of relatives, conformation, stride, physical appearance, any declared or observed medical problems with the animal, the prevailing economic conditions, the sex of the horse, age, the sale the horse is presented at, the time of day the horse is presented at the sale, the proximity of the horse to popular lots within the catalogue and the reputation of the consignors and their relationship to major purchasers. The stallion of the foal influences the price greatly based on current performance and sales prices of their offspring and near relatives. Our data suggest that the stallion prices advertised in 2006 and 2007 (relative to the prices achieved at sales in this sample of their offspring) were closely matched with their extra value in the sales ring, especially for flat-bred horses.
The advertised stallion fee was, on average, 191% of the sales price achieved for subjects. In contrast, the hospital fee average was 16%. This shows that the hospital bill usually represents a relatively minor portion of the production costs of a foal, especially in compared to the stallion fee. Therefore, in light of the results of this study showing no effect on sales price, it may often be economically worthwhile for owners to invest in hospital treatment of their foals when required.
Disease severe enough to warrant hospitalisation during the first 125 days of life might have affected the conformation, walk, physical appearance and ongoing medical conditions of the animal and hence its value at public auction. With this in mind, we elected to use controls that appeared in the same microcosm of the same sale as the subject, to reduce the potential confounding factors of the prevailing economic conditions, the sale, the time of day and the proximity to popular lots. We chose 6 controls for each subject to try to minimise the effects of a particularly good or poor horse among the controls for a particular animal. We had no background information on the control horses, and it is possible that a minor percentage of them were themselves hospitalised as foals. This was another rationale for choosing 6 controls for each subject: to minimise the effects of this possibility. One risk associated with our method of selecting controls is that subjects might have gone to a less good sale than they were destined to, had they not had a disease that required hospitalisation. One possible test of this risk is to compare the stallion fees of subjects and controls. It would be expected that, if subjects were sent to less premium public auctions than they might have been originally destined for, they would have a higher mean stallion fee than those of their control horses in the same sales. This was not the case (Table 2).
An alternative approach to selecting controls would have been to use full and half siblings of the subjects that were also presented to public auction. This approach has been used to assess sales performance (Baker et al. 2011) and race performance (Axon et al. 1999; Sanchez et al. 2008) of horses that were treated as foals. Subjects in this study presented for sale during 2007–2010. This was a time of great worldwide economic turmoil and this was reflected in large changes in average prices and clearance rates at public Thoroughbred auctions. Siblings, if presented for sale at the same age, are necessarily presented in a different year. Many of the subjects had only one or 2 siblings that had presented at public auction and some had none. This precluded controlling for the average, median and clearance rate at each sale using a large number of controls for each subject.
This study was not designed to determine whether there is a reduced chance of hospital-treated foals reaching the sales. Some of the foals presented to the hospital are bred to race for their breeders and no data were available to determine whether the foals presented to the hospital were destined for the sales or for racing. Horses can also be sold privately or at sales in countries that are not included in the Racing Post database, and therefore would not be included in the dataset. Many horses bred for National Hunt racing are not presented for sale until they are aged 3 or 4 years. The oldest animals presented to sales in this study were aged 2 years, and this may explain the low percentage of National Hunt foals treated (23%) that presented to sales during the period of this study. However, despite all these factors, there is likely to be a drop-out rate of foals treated in the hospital that do not recover sufficiently from their disease to present at public auction. Axon et al. (1999) found that 6% of Thoroughbred foals treated at their hospital were not registered, compared to <1% of the general population.
Horses treated as foals might have retarded growth, which means that they are less well developed than their peers at the time of the foal sales. However, we did not find that animals presented to the foal sales sold, were bought in or were passed at a lower price than their controls. Clinical observation suggests that foals that are small can catch up with their peers by the time they are yearlings. It is therefore possible that some of the subjects were originally intended for the foal sales but were held back for the yearling sales. We cannot test this theory from the data collected.
In conclusion, Thoroughbred horses treated in this hospital as foals that are presented for public auction do not sell for lower prices than controls. It is conceivable that other hospitals, with other case-mixes and sales, might find other results. Further study may be required to determine whether hospital treatment in general has any impact on sales performance.
Conflicts of interests
No conflicts of interest have been declared.
Sources of funding
This study was not funded by a third party.
The authors thank the nurses at the study hospital for excellent care of the patients.
a Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, Washington, USA.
b http://www.racingpost.com, accessed 1 July 2010 to 31 December 2010.
c http://www.ecb.int/stats/exchange/eurofxref/html/eurofxref-graph-gbp.en.html, accessed 29 July 2010 to 31 December 2010.
d http://www.ecb.int/stats/exchange/eurofxref/html/eurofxref-graph-usd.en.html, accessed 29 July 2010 to 31 December 2010.