06/19/2014 9:21AM

Reporting geldings more complicated than it seems


Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that any claim of a horse whose sex isn't properly represented can be voided in Kentucky. In Kentucky, it is the responsibility of the claimant to determine the sex of a horse, and any error in reporting the sex of a horse cannot be used as grounds to void the claim.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – On June 1 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Old Times Sake, a 3-year-old maiden with one previous start at Gulfstream Park this year, was loaded into the starting gate. He finished last in a field of five maiden claimers but was claimed in the race by owner-trainer Jack Frost for $30,000.

A couple of days later, Ron Moquett, the trainer of Old Times Sake at the time of the claiming race, got a phone call from Churchill stewards about the horse.

“Is that horse a colt or a gelding?” Moquett said he was asked. “I told them, ‘He is what the foal papers say he is.’ ”

So, Moquett was fined $500. And that was because the foal papers on file at Churchill showed that Old Times Sake was a gelding.

Many horseplayers might be confused by such a result. How is it that a horse can be gelded, and yet even the people closest to the horse don’t know it?

While baffling on the face of it, the Old Times Sake case illustrates a number of complexities in how the industry deals with the recording of a sex alteration in racehorses, which can be tricky at times. Rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction on the responsibilities of a trainer or owner to report the gelding of a horse, and only a few have rules on the books that put a time frame or a specific penalty on a failure to report the sex alteration.

To many horseplayers, the proper identification of a gelding is most important when a horse has been gelded between starts. Some horseplayers believe a gelding’s performance can improve markedly in the start after the horse has been altered, in part because prior to being gelded, the horse may have been performing below his ability due to the high-strung nature of some young colts.

Statistically, it’s not known whether first-time geldings perform better than other horses. The Daily Racing Form and other mainstream data providers do not track statistics on first-time geldings because of the unreliability of the reports on when the operations are performed, filed, and noted in a horse’s past-performance file, according to data officials.

The Old Times Sake case does not exactly fit the criteria of one of those cases in which horseplayers claim the misinformation cost them a valuable data point in evaluating a horse’s chances. According to Moquett, the horse was gelded eight weeks before he ever started in a maiden-claiming race March 27 at Gulfstream when trained by George Weaver. As a result, the horse started both times listed as a colt, without a potentially performance-altering operation between starts.

The horse was claimed out of the Gulfstream race by trainer Mike Maker and transferred by the owner to Moquett when Churchill opened its spring meet. Moquett said he did not check the horse’s foal papers, which were already on file with Churchill’s racing office, after he received Old Times Sake.

Moquett entered the horse in a Churchill race prior to the June 1 start, and he said he saw that the horse was listed as a colt in the entries. The race did not fill, but the racing office hustled the horse for the June 1 race, and he was entered once again, with Moquett still under the belief that the horse was a colt.

But wait – wasn’t Moquett with the horse? How could a seasoned horsemen like Moquett fail to notice that the horse was a gelding?

Contrary to what many people believe, a gelded horse is not always obvious to spot, especially when the horses are young and immature. Without getting too deep into the anatomy, colts can be ridglings, with only one descended testicle, and many young horses do not show that they are entire, especially when they are immature. Sometimes it takes a veterinary exam to prove that a horse has been castrated.

“I hadn’t been told the horse was a gelding, and I never saw the papers,” Moquett said. “The first thing I saw was that ‘c.’ listing in the entries. I just assumed the testicles were undescended because you see that all the time with immature horses. You’ve got ridglings sometimes, and sometimes the testicles are very small, or they haven’t dropped yet, and a lot of times, it’s not some black-and-white thing to the eye.”

In Kentucky, a racing rule states that a sex alteration must be reported “promptly” to track officials (the same language used by The Jockey Club for its registry). Barbara Borden, the state steward in Kentucky who is a former horse identifier, said problems very rarely arise with the reporting of the operation, and when they do, it’s in instances like the Old Times Sake case, when a claiming horse jumps from barn to barn without the trainers communicating with each other.

“They aren’t trying to put one over,” Borden said. “You’ll have cases where everyone thought the horse was a ridgling. Sometimes a visual inspection isn’t conclusive. Sometimes you need an ultrasound to even confirm it.”

Most changes are reported to racing offices by the trainer. In that case, it’s the responsibility of the racing office to record the change in its internal system. When entries are taken, the entry sheet is sent electronically to Equibase, which maintains the database on racing information.

If a horse on the entry sheet is listed as a gelding when the Equibase database shows the horse is a colt, the company’s software automatically generates an e-mail from Equibase to the racing office, asking for the change to be confirmed, according to Rick Bailey, the registrar of The Jockey Club, which is a part-owner of Equibase.

Because Equibase generates the entry sheet that is immediately distributed to past-performance publishers after entry time, a horse listed as a gelding by the racing office will remain listed as a colt by Equibase until the change is confirmed, usually within 24 hours of entry, Bailey said. That can lead to a delay in reporting the horse to the public as a gelding, which is why most horseplayers first learn about a “first-time gelding” from the change sheet distributed the morning of the race card or from the scroll on live video feeds of races.

That was the case with the recent first-time gelding winner Wabbajack, who won the first race on the Belmont Stakes card June 7 as the favorite. The horse initially was listed as a colt on the entry sheet but announced as a gelding the day of the race. The term “first-time gelding” also was listed on the track’s change sheet.

New York is one of the most recent jurisdictions to change its rule regarding sex alterations to tighten up the requirements. Under the new rule, which has been approved by the state’s regulators but still needs to pass a public-comment period and be ratified, trainers or owners must report a sex alteration on racetrack grounds to the racing office within 72 hours of the operation or face a $1,000 fine. If the operation is performed off-track, it has to be reported “at the time of the next entry of the horse to race.”

A similar rule has been in place in California since 2009. Texas and Oklahoma also have the same rule on the books.

Lee Park, a spokesman for the New York State Gaming Commission, which regulates horse racing in New York, said no specific case prompted the passage of the rule.

It’s “simply good policy,” Park said, “not reactionary to any specific instance.”

Most sex alterations are reported to the racing office at the start of a track’s meet, when trainers are required to submit foal papers. The changes usually are noted manually in the track’s internal system, Bailey said.

“It’s not unusual to get a lot of change reports at that time,” Bailey said.

According to Borden, the system of reporting a change to the racing office usually works well. But she acknowledged that there are gaps that need to be closed.

“There are a lot of opportunities to catch it before a horse runs, and any instance we’ve had has just been an error,” Borden said. “If we catch it too late, we’ve only been able to penalize the trainer.”

In the case of Old Times Sake, his operation was noted on his foal papers, but the change was not entered manually in the internal database at either Gulfstream or Churchill, and the horse raced twice listed as a colt, with horseplayers and his trainer none the wiser.

“I’ll accept responsibility,” Moquett said. “I should have been more thorough, but I honestly didn’t know. No one’s going to outwork me on the racetrack, but it’s the trainer’s responsibility, like it is in all these things, and I should have been more thorough.”