By Jessica Martini
Ciaran and Amy Dunne's Wavertree Stables is perennially one of the leading consignors of 2-year-olds in the country, but their process for buying pinhooking prospects at the yearling sales changed dramatically with the advent of the sales repository over two decades ago.
“We started buying yearlings before the repository,” Ciaran Dunne said. “Back in those days, you had to shorten down your vet list because of the costs involved. There was very little that we couldn't live with because we might vet, at the very most, four horses a day. So if you were very picky, you didn't get anything. Back in those days, sesamoiditis wasn't as big a deal, there was no such thing as ultrasounds and soft tissue scans. So very early on we learned to live with a lot of things. And because of that, we trained horses who had various issues. We saw a lot of what horses can live with and what horses can't live with.”
Dunne said his decisions at the yearling sales are generally based more on the individual in front of him than on the expansive vet reports available today.
“Some years, I will say I'm not going to buy any horse that has any degree of sesamoiditis above mild,” he explained. “But if I find a horse I really, really like and he's got moderate or severe sesamoiditis and I still like him, I'll probably still buy him. I think if we allow the veterinary findings to dictate what we buy, then a lot of times you end up buying horses you are just OK on physically and you walk away from the ones you love because they have some little issue that might never have been a problem. I take the tact that I would much rather buy one that I love that has a little this or a little that than buy one that I'm just so-so on because he has a clean set of X-rays.”
The Wavertree team doesn't adjust its process just because they are predominately shopping for pinhooking prospects, rather than racehorse prospects.
“I have people tell me, 'He'll be OK to race, but not to pinhook,'” Dunne said. “Ultimately, they are all going to have to be racehorses. And I can't be a future purchaser's veterinarian. I can't say what they will like and what they won't like. There are plenty of horses that come with veterinary findings that are of no consequence to me, but the buyers run away from and hide. And then there are horses that, when we get the X-ray report back after the breeze show, I think we are in trouble here and nobody else seems to have a problem with it.”
Buyers relying solely on a vet report while neglecting to consider the individual may be missing the bigger picture, according to Dunne.
“I'm not going to say that everything with bad X-rays or a bad ultrasound will go on and run,” he said. “I think everything is relative. Some horses who have issues, if they have a lighter frame they can maybe live with them, whereas with a heavier-bodied type, you'd be less inclined to give them a chance. I think people use the vet reports to weed horses out, but I don't think you can look at a vet report and say this horse is no good.”
He continued, “In the same way, when people read X-rays or read soft-tissue findings and aren't physically there to look at the horse, I don't think they can give a fair judgement on whether this is representative of what the horse actually is. Trying to evaluate a horse off a piece of paper in terms of radiographic findings or trying to evaluate a horse digitally from 500 miles away, I don't think that works. I think there has to be a little common sense. Context matters.”
When Dunne switches from buying yearlings to selling juveniles, he sees a difference in how potential buyers utilize vet reports.
“I think they are harder on the 2-year-olds than they are on the yearlings with the vetting,” Dunne said. “We've seen a lot of yearlings sell for a lot of money with radiographic findings that really raised our eyebrows. Whereas the slightest thing in the 2-year-olds chases them away. Which seems to me to be backwards. Maybe it's that people [buying yearlings] think they have enough time to fix anything. I think they are looking for ghosts.”
Watching horses perform on the racetrack at a 2-year-old sale should provide buyers with more confidence than it generally seems to, according to Dunne.
“It amuses me when a horse goes up and works well enough and gallops out well enough to make them come down to see him and he comes out and he shows himself well and then they are going to come up with this huge problem that he might have,” Dunne said. “I don't know what they think we are that we would be able to mask something like that. At the end of the day, if you look at the scratch rate at 2-year-old sales, the ones that have problems are eliminated before they get to see them. And usually the ones that work good are the ones that end up being good horses. Again, you have to put the whole thing into context. How considerable can it be if they just performed at that level?”
Dunne stressed what he sees as the importance of potential buyers making decisions based on the findings of–and consultations with–their own veterinarians.
“I hate the vet reports,” Dunne said. “I hate showing the vet report because I feel like people, when they ask to see the vet report, are just looking for a reason not to go vet them. Whereas if they just go vet them, their veterinarian may not have an issue with the ink that's on the page. When we buy yearlings, I don't look at vet reports. If I like the horse well enough, I look at my vet's interpretation and I live or die by his opinion. I think everybody should do their own homework.”