The X-Ray Files: Elliott Walden

Elliott Walden | Sarah Andrew


The TDN sat down with WinStar Farm President and CEO Elliott Walden for the next installment in this ongoing series presented in cooperation with the Consignors and Breeders Association (CBA). Through conversations with buyers and sellers, the series looks to contribute to the discussion on radiograph findings and their impact on racetrack success.

Elliott Walden had already enjoyed Classic success as a trainer with 1998 GI Belmont S. winner Victory Gallop when he joined WinStar Farm in 2002. He has served as CEO of the operation–

which has produced success from the breeding shed to the sales ring and to the racetrack–since 2010.

For Walden, the vet report is one piece of a much bigger picture when evaluating a horse's potential.

“Take it in context with what you are seeing physically,” Walden said of potential vet issues. “I don't think anything is black or white. We tend to evaluate the horse, evaluate their movement and then also evaluate the X-ray findings. I definitely think that you need to look at the horse. X-rays play too big a part in some people's decisions.”

Combining the X-ray results with what you physically observe of a horse will help tell the whole story, Walden said.

“A lot of it has to do with their conformation and how it is tied to what you are seeing on X-rays,” he explained. “If a horse had something in an ankle and was very upright, I would lean against. You want to take everything in context.”

Asked for a horse who was discounted in the marketplace due to perceived vet issues, who then succeeded on the racetrack, Walden had a ready answer.

“Swiss Skydiver comes to mind,” he said.

Bred by WinStar Farm, Swiss Skydiver was purchased by trainer Ken McPeek for $35,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September sale. She went on to win three Grade I races– including the 2020 GI Preakness S. and GI Alabama S.–and was named that year's champion 3-year-old filly. After earning over $2.2 million on the racetrack, she sold for $4.7 million at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton November sale.

“She had a cyst in her cannon bone and the market was very hard on her,” Walden said. “Ken McPeek saw through it and here we over $2 million later.”

Walden draws on his day-to-day experiences, first as a trainer and now as head of WinStar, to determine what findings might hinder performance on the track and what issues are unlikely to affect a racehorse.

“Cysts are something that, if they are not clinical, we have seen good success with those,” he said. “Sesamoiditis is always a hot topic and I've seen plenty of horses with that that have run well. There are obviously grades to that and it's more of a risk tolerance than it is a yes or no.”

Word travels fast at the racetrack and on the sales grounds, sometimes to the detriment of a sales horse.

“People talk,” Walden said. “If you hear that somebody turned a horse down, it's hard for the next guy to be able to take that chance because his owner might hear that somebody else turned it down.

“So, again, a lot of it is opinion. We have multiple vets to look at the same set of data, same set of X-Rays and gotten multiple opinions.”

A database of accumulated knowledge would allow buyers to take the guesswork out of the vet report, according to Walden.

“I think that, in this day and age, we should be able to get the data, log it and be able to understand what each X-ray means,” he said. “Right now, there is so much opinion and conjecture. Some of it is directly related to one man's experience. So for example, if I have had good luck with something, I will maybe be more lenient with it, while another guy who has had the same issue but has not had good luck with it won't be. We should eliminate luck. I think we have enough evidence and data through all of the X-rays that have been taken through the years, that if we could somehow compile them in a logical database, we could start to make better informed decisions about what the risk tolerances are.”

Finding a vet who has practical day-to-day experience with horses on the track can be key to striking the right balance between risk and reward.

“I think it's important to get a vet that has had racetrack experience,” Walden said. “Not one specializing in academia, but one that has practical experience on the racetrack.”

Check out previous installments of The X-Ray Files: with Tom McCrocklin, David Ingordo, Liz Crow, Ciaran Dunne, Bill Heiligbrodt, and Wesley Ward.

Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.

Copy Article Link

Liked this article? Read more like this.

  1. Speak Easy Confirmed for Fountain of Youth
  2. WinStar Secures NIL Deal with UK's Reed Sheppard
  3. Timberlake Fine After Rebel Win, Next Start Undecided
  4. Rebel Goes to Timberlake in Classy Effort
  5. Derby And Oaks Points Ripe On Graded Sunny Saturday At Oaklawn

Never miss another story from the TDN

Click Here to sign up for a free subscription.