Friday, February 10, 2012

Identifying the Thoroughbred: The horse isn't talking...

[image: wikipedia commons]
When the world produces far too many brown horses:

That of course means that somebody has to referee the process.  Yes, Thoroughbreds do have VIN numbers of sorts, that being the age-old lip tattoo, but somewhere between birth and the equivalent of being either initiated into a motorcycle gang or The Jockey Club, some poor soul has to make sure that Brownie doesn't become Blackie, or worse yet, that Mrs. Brownie doesn't become Mr. Blackie or...God forbid, force a racing secretary to write a $4000 claiming race for hermaphrodite non-winners of two.  Don't laugh until you have spent an afternoon trying to 'identify' a horse.  I mean the TSA has enough trouble identifying humans and most of them can speak one language or another.  A horse...well, he just stands there having a good laugh to himself.  You see, he doesn't really give a shit who he is.  Self-identity is purely a human process and is normally conducted in the lobby of the nearest Lexus dealership. 

So if you want to sell a Thoroughbred yearling at a public auction you will need irrefutable evidence as to the genetic purity of Brownie.  Or Blackie.  Of course, it is important to realize the origins of this tedious process and naturally it had to do with people:  Humans are really, really, really obsessed over identity -- and secondly, they very often misplace their honesty, unless the IRS happens to be on the phone.  So...certain kinds of twisted logic evolved to try and overcome the obvious pitfalls of too much honesty, not enough honest, a failure to embrace common sense or simply a case of bad eyesight.  And it is here that The Jockey Club (an organization similar to a Turkish Court, but with more paperwork and fewer executions), struggles mightily to insure that Blackie and Brownie aren't really Bob.  Or worse yet, Shirley.

In the beginning, Thoroughbreds were kind of visually identified.  Everybody got a handy little guide that would fit on a clipboard.  The owner would then wander out in the pasture with new Sharpie pen and the proper form.  An hour later he'd be back in the house phoning The Jockey Club for more forms.  At least two-dozen.  Oh, and maybe a pencil instead. 

Most people that own racehorses tend to be rich...if not rich, then they have access to more ready cash than I do.  You know, captains of industry, investment bankers, divorce lawyers, movie producers...movers and shakers.  As such, they never paid much attention in third-grade art class.  And without those particular skills, they're doomed. 
The forms indicate that the artist should approximate the areas of white (as opposed to brown -- we're trying to keep it simple here), by drawing a line to separate the division of color.  The form goes on to suggest that you do the left-side first.  Whose left, you ask?  Yours or the horses?  And is it a right leg if you're standing on the right side?  The front and hind part seems simple enough.  The one end is liable to kick you if get too curious about a little white spot on the heel.  Hell, it's probably bird shit.  Better to move on to the face.

Pretty doesn't matter here.  The Jockey Club tries not to be too subjective on this matter.  You can't write, "Looks just like Secretariat.  Very cute horse."  They frown on commentary.  All of these markings (believe it or not), have a specific title.  If you're lucky, your horse is identical to the one on the bottom/right image below.  Of course, that brings up a whole different can of worms.  Brown horses that have no white whatsoever.  Whenever I got one of these, I'd spray-paint fluorescent markings on their side, photograph the horse and send that to The Jockey Club with something like, "fluorescent pink stripe to left, descending to a dot, mid-stifle to hock."  That always garnered a call from New York.  Same thing happens if you include your favorite dog, wife or child in the picture.  They are very fussy people at The Jockey Club.
[image: wiki commons]
The research department at The Jockey Club finally came up with a system to deal with one-color horses and art school flunkies.  Equine fingerprints.  No, not the hooves.  They decided that chestnuts (also called night-eyes or mistaken fungal infections), were unique to each individual horse.  Chestnuts are actually left-over appendages from when the horse sprinted around on three-toes, instead of just one.  But some horses don't have them -- probably the same ones that got short-changed on white markings.  Aha, you say!  Foiled again!
Well, not quite.  The Jockey Club also decided that whorls (equine cowlicks) were unique to individuals.  Hell, so were intestinal polyps.  Pretty soon, the search for honesty would end on the coroner's slab.  And besides, all these systems were analytical, not empirical -- and each horse would have to be identified by a different individual at least three times prior to being tattooed -- the tattoo only administered if the horse made it to the racetrack.  Sooo...
[image: wiki commons]
[image: bozo_z_clown/flickr]
....Plan B, or maybe C actually.  Blood-typing.  Science to the rescue at last.  Maybe.  They didn't consider my farm during that particular brain-storming session.  See, my farm was owned by a veterinarian...and veterinarians are sort of do-it-yourself types.  So...
[cooperative extension]

"The spring months gave me the opportunity to attach a new name to each of Doc's broodmares.  Sure, I used their registered names whenever Elaine was around, which wasn't too often, or when The Jockey Club called for some form of clarification, that normally being twice a day.  Clarification was important.  Between me, Doc, and The Jockey Club, none of us were capable of matching the paperwork with a likely candidate.  The high-court of paperwork in New York noted this fault in their system and finally initiated blood-typing for all Thoroughbreds.  That led to some brilliant conversations around the farm:
"Say Doc.  Says here that that horse isn't Spit.  It's some horse named...I can't read this.  What does that say?"  I'm trying to read the fine print.
"It says 'sterile.'  That's the label thing."  Doc had glasses, I only had eyes.
"Well, if it's not Spit, then who is it?"  I was thinking we'd just call one horse 'Sterile' and mail the shit back.
"Ah, you know I think it might be the neighbor's horse.  When we took the blood samples I only had fourteen kits and there were fifteen horses in the barn if I remember right.  Or it could be one of the dogs.  I had a lot of samples in the refrigerator."
"So..."  I wondered how this filing system worked when he was neutering a cat.  "What do you think we oughta do?"  And here The Jockey Club thought they had finally closed the last great loophole.
"Why don't you give 'em a call.  Oh, here's another one.  I don't think I own this horse either."



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