Updated on 09/17/2011 10:39AM

Gelding often the sensible decision


LEXINGTON, Ky. - When pinhooker Tony Everard decided to geld the yearling Funny Cide, he was making a fairly easy choice. If he had kept the colt intact, Everard would have gambled on two issues: first, that Funny Cide's one undescended testicle would never cause him any discomfort when he trained, and second, that Funny Cide would become enough of a star to merit a commercially viable stud fee.

At the time, Everard thought Funny Cide was a late-blooming colt with a decent pedigree - but not a blue-blooded horse with the potential to become the next Triple Crown winner or the next Storm Cat. He called his veterinarian to perform the surgery that, for about $400, transformed Funny Cide from what horsemen call a ridgling and veterinarians call a cryptorchid (literally, "hidden testicle") into a gelding.

Faced with a situation and a pedigree like Funny Cide's, many horsemen prefer to eliminate any chance that an undescended testicle will prevent a horse from running to the best of his ability. That decision is made easier by the fact that an undescended testicle, or one that is trapped in the inguinal canal (the passage through which the testicles descend into the scrotum), generally is far less fertile than a normal testicle.

"It was a very routine procedure," said Dr. Phil Hammock, the Ocala veterinarian who gelded Funny Cide in 2001. "The testicle was located in the inguinal canal, so it had tried to descend but hadn't made it all the way down. That's the most common place for an undescended testicle to be.

"We did the operation more or less as a preventive procedure. There's no cut-and-dried science to support this, but I know I personally have castrated several horses like him who had a stiff way of moving behind, and after surgery they seemed to loosen up and be better movers."

Potential pain from an undescended testicle, which remains in the horse's abdomen near his flank area, is only one reason horsemen will geld a colt. Gelding can also make an overly aggressive colt more tractable, a change that can make a notable difference in a horse's racing career. In fact, the ranks of geldings have included a galaxy of stars. Among racing's millionaire or champion geldings are Kelso, Forego, John Henry, and, more recently, Da Hoss, Jim and Tonic, and With Anticipation.

In some cases, as in that of the former Florida stallion Devongate, testicular injury through twisting or other trauma can force an owner to geld a horse.

A stallion with only one descended testicle can still breed successfully. That fact sometimes prompts owners of well-bred and promising colts to have only the undescended testicle removed, but that situation is rare.

Geldings have performed with distinction in Triple Crown races. Funny Cide is one of eight geldings to have won the Kentucky Derby, though the last before him was Clyde Van Dusen in 1929. He was the seventh gelding to win the Preakness, following Prairie Bayou in 1993. Geldings were banned from competing in the Belmont Stakes from 1919 to 1956, and only one, Cr?me Fraiche, in 1985, has won the race in its 134-year history.