Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
Afraid your stallion is a dud at stud? Well, don’t be so quick to judge: Many factors influence stallion fertility, say our sources, and a good number of these can be managed and improved.
Stallion fertility is important because it means foals on the ground, a successful and profitable breeding operation, and the continuation of a particular stallion’s genetics. Stallion subfertility or infertility can have economic consequences in the form of lost breeding fees and increased management and veterinary costs, says Regina M. Turner, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACT, associate professor of large animal reproduction at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center.
But keep in mind these rates aren’t entirely up to the stallion. To determine his fertility, look at fertile mares he bred under good management conditions, says Terry Blanchard, DVM, Dipl. ACT, professor at Texas A&M University.
“In our studies with Thoroughbred stallions, the mares bred accounted for about half of the variation in pregnancy outcome,” he says, noting that management techniques on the farms housing the mares accounted for about 17% of the variation in pregnancy outcome. “Only about a third of variation in pregnancy outcome was due to the stallion,” he explains.
Once you and your veterinarian resolve any problems with the mares, farms, and breeding dates, then assess the stallion. Because there are many causes of subfertility and sterility and not all are identifiable or even known, these problems cannot be solved simply, says Blanchard. And whether a veterinarian can improve a stallion’s fertility typically depends on the underlying cause. It is very important that owners of subfertile or infertile stallions have a veterinarian perform a complete breeding soundness evaluation in an attempt to determine the cause of his problem before discussing treatments.
Let’s take a look at common causes of subfertility and the methods used to correct or improve it.
Stallions’ sperm production and function likely have a genetic basis. If a stallion inherits “good” copies of these genes, then he might have improved fertility compared to other stallions, says Turner. However, if the stallion inherits more than his fair share of “bad” copies of these genes, he will be at an increased risk of possessing fertility problems. She suggests that this is probably why some horse breeds or family lines tend to be more fertile than others.
Solutions If the fertility problem is genetic (for example, the stallion has always been subfertile and is from a line of subfertile stallions), then you can’t really “treat” the underlying problem, Turner says. “We have no way of replacing ‘bad’ genes with ‘good’ genes.”
However, in these cases it might be possible to manage the stallion or process the semen to improve pregnancy rates. Basically, she says, you have to make the most of a bad situation.
In some cases when stallion sperm numbers are low and the mare is not being bred using live cover (as is required for certain registered breeds such as Thoroughbreds), a veterinarian might use a procedure called deep horn insemination. With this technique, sperm are concentrated using centrifugation (spinning to separate the light and heavy particulates) and placed deep within one of the mare’s uterine horns, next to the ovary that is about to ovulate. Sperm then only have a short distance to travel before they reach the oviduct where they can fertilize released the egg, says Turner, resulting in good pregnancy rates.
In extreme circumstances, or when using deceased stallion’s semen, veterinarians can use a technique known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Here the veterinarian injects a single sperm directly into an egg aspirated from the mare’s ovarian follicle to produce an embryo, which can then be transferred to a recipient mare. Advantages of this technique are that it requires very few sperm, and they don’t have to be motile (moving), says Turner. However, the procedure is expensive and offered by few clinics in the United States.
Reducing a stallion’s “book” also can help, she says. If a stallion is booked to 80 mares for one breeding season but his sperm counts are low, each mare might receive an inadequate dose of sperm and be less likely to get pregnant. Reducing book size can mean more sperm per insemination and might increase pregnancy rates.
In recent research published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, Blanchard suggests collecting dismount semen samples to confirm ejaculation and check sperm motility to monitor changes in fertility during the breeding season.
Poor-Quality Seminal Plasma
Seminal plasma is fluid from the accessory glands that adds volume to the sperm. Even if a stallion has good semen quality, over time, and perhaps while in storage, his sperm motility can decline rapidly because it is exposed to poor seminal plasma. This results in subfertility.
“The factors responsible for making ‘good’ and ‘bad’ seminal plasma have not yet been determined,” Turner says. “This is an area of active investigation since, for example, if specific proteins that provide a beneficial effect to sperm could be identified, they might be useful therapeutically to improve the longevity of sperm.”
Solutions Stallions with poor-quality seminal plasma can benefit from having the plasma removed via centrifuge. During this process the sperm are packed into a soft pellet at the bottom of the centrifuge tube. Most of the seminal plasma can then be aspirated off the top of the pellet, and the sperm can be resuspended in semen extender. This process can vastly improve the longevity of sperm motility as well as pregnancy rates, says Turner.
Stallions with poor sperm quality also might benefit from gradient separation of sperm. In this processing technique, sperm are separated based on buoyancy, or their ability to float. Abnormal sperm have a different buoyancy than normal sperm and can be removed from a sample, resulting in a concentrated sperm pellet. Although a large number of sperm are often lost in the gradient, the resulting high-quality sperm can be very useful when paired with deep horn insemination techniques, says Turner.
Hot weather and toxins or chemicals in the environment can impact sperm production, as well as semen quality and fertility. Anabolic steroid administration is another factor–albeit a management one–in the stallion’s environment. These drugs might be administered to enhance some competition horses’ performance, but they can reduce fertility.
Solutions Breeders should remove or alter any environmental factor contributing to poor testicular function. House the stallion in a cool, comfortable environment, and discontinue any drugs that can adversely affect fertility (such as some anabolic steroids), Turner suggests. This can improve fertility in about 60 days.
Sexually transmitted diseases can affect testicular function. For example, equine herpesvirus-3 can cause lesions on the stallion’s penis. Equine viral arteritis causes inflammation in the external male reproductive organs and fever. Any systemic illness that causes fever in a stallion can briefly affect semen quality and fertility. Testicular tumors and reproductive tract infections can cause fertility problems as well.
Solutions Many of these problems, with the exception of tumors, are transient. If a veterinarian treats and corrects the problem, fertility usually rebounds, says Turner.
Testicular function and fertility often decline as a stallion ages. The exact causes of age-related fertility problems are not yet known, says Turner. However, the problems are associated with a progressive decrease in testicular size and a decline in semen quality.
Solutions Unfortunately, there is no known treatment for old age, says Turner, but–perhaps only half jokingly–her lab is working on it. “We have evidence that there are cells or factors in young testicles that can help the function of aged testicles,” she explains. “Some day we hope to be able to identify these cells or factors and use them to develop a treatment for age-related declines in fertility.”
Some subfertile stallions have normal testicular function and semen quality but have trouble delivering the sperm to the mare, explains Turner. These problems can be caused by blockages within the reproductive tract that prevent ejaculation.
Solutions A veterinarian can clear sperm blockages using a combination of physical massage of the blockage–usually through the rectum–and very frequent semen collections to clear the obstruction.
Some stallions might have back pain, or even a fractured pelvis, that makes it painful to mount a mare and/or ejaculate. These stallions might show signs of discomfort in the breeding shed. If breeding is associated with chronic pain, the stallion’s libido might eventually decline, further complicating the problem.
Solutions Have a veterinarian perform a careful musculoskeletal and behavioral examination on these stallions to identify the source of the pain. Then he or she can prescribe appropriate treatment, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Some stallions can be trained to ejaculate while thrusting with all four legs on the ground, which can minimize back pain. There are also some drugs, such as xylazine, that when administered at the appropriate dosage can result in spontaneous ejaculation in about 30-40% of attempts, says Turner.
Although specific nutritional deficiencies can, in theory, result in subfertility, Turner says, these problems are rarely seen today. Why? Because the vast majority of nutrition programs are more than adequate to support normal fertility. Instead, the most common nutritional problem now seen in breeding stallions is obesity.
Solution Overfeeding and inactivity create overly fat stallions that are at increased risk for developing joint and back problems and, eventually, problems such as equine metabolic syndrome. These can all lead to physical problems with breeding. Turner suggests keeping stallions on a maintenance diet and providing regular exercise.
Some stallions might benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. Omega-3s have been shown to improve motility in stallions with poor longevity of sperm motility when sperm are cooled in an Equitainer (used to transport cooled semen). Such supplementation is not a panacea for all causes of infertility, Turner says, but it might benefit select stallions.
Before making a judgment about a stallion’s fertility, assess the whole picture. Look at the mares he’s breeding, the environments where mare and stallion are kept, and have a veterinarian perform a complete breeding soundness examination annually. Correct any problems discovered and then reevaluate his fertility.
ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 6, 2017)–In his first try around two turns, heavily favored Silent Bird ran down longshot El Huerfano late to take Friday’s $63,000 Santa Anita allowance feature by a neck under Flavien Prat. Trained by Mark Glatt, the 5-year-old horse by Summer Bird got a flat mile in 1:36.52.
In hand under Prat around the Club House turn, Silent Bird raced a close fifth past the half mile pole and was on the move in high gear while caught four-wide turning for home, giving punters momentary pause as he veered toward the middle of the track while straightening for home.
“He was a little green once he made the lead,” said Prat. “Once we straightened away, he was fine.”
The 3-5 favorite in a field of six older horses, Silent Bird paid $3.60, $2.80 and $2.40.
Owned by Norman Stables, LLC, Silent Bird was a winner of the seven furlong Damascus Stakes here two starts back on Nov. 4, and he was a game allowance winner at the same distance on Dec. 1 at Del Mar. He now has five wins from six starts and with the winner’s share of $37,800, he increased his earnings to $208,800.
“I was a little concerned that with this being his first time going long, he might get a little keen, but it was the opposite of that,” said Glatt. When asked what might be next for the streaking Silent Bird, Glatt responded, “We’ll look at the San Antonio (Grade II, 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 4). With all the heavy hitters seemingly out of town…Hopefully, he comes back good and we’ll go from there.
Sent from the gate by Victor Espinoza, El Huerfano dictated terms throughout through fractions of 23.14, 45.96, 1:10.52 and 1:23.40 and battled back gamely at the rail when challenged a furlong out to finish five lengths in front of Avanti Bello.
Off at 6-1, El Huerfano paid $5.20 and $3.60.
Ridden by Mario Gutierrez, Avanti Bello was off at 5-1 and paid $3.60 to show.
First post time for a nine-race card on Saturday at Santa Anita is at 12:30 p.m. Admission gates open at 10:30 a.m.
- SHAM STAKES LURES TRIPLE CROWN HOPEFULS
- RING WEEKEND HOLDS FORM FOR SAN GABRIEL
- TVG’S ‘THE STARTING GATE’ TO DEBUT SATURDAY
- SANTA YNEZ HAS A GRADE I QUALITY: BAFFERT
- MIDNIGHT STORM LIKELY TO WAIT FOR BIG ‘CAP
- CHAMP SONGBIRD DUE AT SANTA ANITA JAN. 24
- ‘BOOGER’ AND BELVOIR TOGETHER AGAIN
WELL-TRAVELED COLONEL SAMSEN TRIES DIRT IN SHAM
Colonel Samsen, the Marco Polo of current Triple Crown candidates, makes his seventh start on his fifth different race track when he runs in Saturday’s Grade III Sham Stakes for three-year-olds at one mile.
The son of 2008 Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John ran previously at Golden Gate, Del Mar, Kentucky Downs, Presque Isle Downs and Santa Anita, winning his last two, at Del Mar on grass and at Golden Gate on synthetic. The Sham will mark his first race on dirt.
“He doesn’t discriminate,” said Eoin Harty, who trained Colonel John. “He’s got Diamond
Status (top level for frequent fliers of Delta Airlines).
“I had the horse in Chicago, then ran in a $130,000 maiden race at Kentucky Downs. That kind of money would put anybody on a bus (Colonel Samsen finished second). He ran well there so I brought him to Santa Anita, and he ran well here.
“He broke his maiden at Del Mar (Nov. 13), then a stake came up in San Francisco (the Gold Rush on Dec. 3, which he won) and now it’s time to try him on dirt in the Sham.”
In other Sham news:
John Shirreffs is optimistic Gormley will perform well when the son of Malibu Moon makes his three-year-old debut in the Sham. Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Gormley has not raced since finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last Nov. 5.
“Condition-wise and weather-wise, it’s a go,” Shirreffs said. “He’s trained very well. He came out of the Breeders’ Cup in great shape and has trained well since.
“As to strategy, we’ll let Victor (Espinoza) make that decision once the gates open. There’s enough speed in the race that maybe he doesn’t need the lead; I don’t know. He’s still kind of new at developing a style. Hopefully, he’ll pick a style that works.”
Big Hit goes from a maiden allowance win at Del Mar Nov. 19 to the Sham, a race Phil D’Amato hopes will lead to bigger and better things for the son of Super Saver owned by Gary and Mary West.
“He’s a big, good-looking horse and hopefully he’s on the improve,” the trainer said of the Kentucky-bred bay. “He has a good head on his shoulders and he had excuses in his first two races, which is why he didn’t run well.
“But he put it all together in his last race (winning by 3 ¼ lengths). We’re kind of testing the waters going long, but he should be ready to go.”
The field for the Sham, which offers 17 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, 10 to the winner: American Anthem, Mike Smith, 9-5; Term of Art, Joe Talamo, 5-1; Bird Is the Word, Kent Desormeaux, 20-1; Colonel Samsen, Flavien Prat, 12-1; Gormley, Victor Espinoza, 8-5; Big Hit, Santiago Gonzalez, 4-1; and Blabimir, Mario Gutierrez, 12-1.
RING WEEKEND TRAINING WELL FOR SAN GABRIEL
Team Motion hopes Ring Weekend continues his winning ways in Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 San Gabriel Stakes for four-year-olds and up scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on turf.
The gelded son of Tapit won the Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap at Del Mar on Nov. 26 after a troubled trip in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in which he was seventh, but beaten less than four lengths, on Nov. 5. “He ran a great race in the Breeders’ Cup and he’s been training well since,” said Aimee Dollase, assistant to trainer Graham Motion.
The San Gabriel: Blue Tone, Kent Desormeaux, 12-1; Point Piper, Mario Gutierrez, 8-1; Flamboyant, Flavien Prat, 4-1; Itsinthepost, Tyler Baze, 10-1; Conquest Daddyo, Luis Contreras, 15-1; A Red Tie Day, Corey Nakatani, 6-1; Quick Casablanca, Gonzalo Ulloa Perez, 15-1; Twentytwentyvision, Mike Smith, 4-1; Perfectly Majestic, Victor Espinoza,
8-1; Ring Weekend, Drayden Van Dyke, 5-2; and Some in Tieme, Tiago Pereira, 20-1.
TVG TO DEBUT ‘THE STARTING GATE’ ON WEEKENDS
Starting this Saturday, TVG will debut The Starting Gate, a new hour-long show that will air Saturday and Sunday mornings, providing an in-depth look at the horse racing industry, emerging prospects, current stars in training personalities behind the races.
Hosted from TVG’s Los Angeles studios, TVG2’s The Starting Gate will feature an inside look at first-time starters at major U.S. racing venues with a focus on the breeding, pedigree, farms and people who brought them to the races. With reporting from racing analysts Caton Bredar, Christina Blacker and Britney Eurton, The Starting Gate will also feature stakes previews and recaps from across the country and live interviews with breeders, owners, trainers and jockeys.
“Along with the wagering that we focus on every day, Thoroughbred breeding and sales is a major economic engine that drives participation in horse racing and The Starting Gate will shine the spotlight on this important aspect of our sport,” said Kip Levin, CEO of Betfair TVG. “There are people and stories behind every horse that reaches the starting gate and we want to bring those stories to racing fans everywhere.”
The new show will debut Saturday, Jan. 7 and a new episode will air each Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and Sunday at 8 a.m. PST on TVG2. The Starting Gate will be produced by Becky Witzman-Somerville, former producer of HRTV’s Race Day America, The Horizon and First Call.
Additionally, to benefit racing industry stakeholders and bring more attention to the sales and breeding segment of the racing industry, TVG and TVG2 will air live coverage of the Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale.
“Keeneland applauds TVG’s efforts to provide fans a comprehensive view of the horse industry, and we look forward to their coverage of the January Horses of All Ages Sale,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said. “In order for fans to really appreciate the economics and excitement of racing, they have to understand a horse’s journey from the breeding farm and sale to the racetrack.”
TVG2 will air gavel to gavel coverage for the first two days of the sale, Monday, Jan. 9 and Tuesday, Jan. 10, with additional coverage on Wednesday, Jan. 11. Christina Blacker will be on-site at Keeneland Monday and Tuesday to provide reports and interviews for both TVG and TVG2. The sale concludes Jan. 13.
The January Sale includes broodmares, broodmare prospects, yearlings, horses of racing age and stallions. Prominent January sales grads include Mind Your Biscuits, who recently won the Grade I Malibu Stakes and Miss Temple City who captured this year’s Matriarch, Shadwell Turf Mile and Maker’s 46 Mile, each a Grade I race.
NOTED AND QUOTED ENTERED IN ‘TOUGH’ SANTA YNEZ
Noted and Quoted is entered to make her first start of the new year on Sunday in the Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes for three-year-old fillies at seven furlongs. It would mark her first start since Nov. 5, when the gray daughter of The Factor finished seventh after leading in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at 1 1/16 miles.
“The Santa Ynez is a very tough spot,” said Bob Baffert, who trains Noted and Quoted for Speedway Stable, LLC. “That should be a Grade I; it’s a really tough race.”
Baffert would be seeking his fifth win in the Santa Ynez, having captured it with Queen of Money for Mike Pegram in 1997; Yearly Report for Golden Eagle Farm in 2004; Indian Blessing for Patti and Hal Earnhardt in 2008; and Awesome Baby for Kaleem Shah in 2013.
The Santa Ynez, race eight of nine: Resilient Humor, Kent Desormeaux, 30-1; Sandy’s Surprise, Mario Gutierrez, 15-1; Unique Bella, Mike Smith, 8-5; Carrie, Modesto Linares, 50-1; Princess Karen, Rafael Bejarano, 8-1; Noted and Quoted, Martin Garcia,
5-1; Go On Mary, Jamie Theriot, 20-1; Shane’s Girlfriend, Flavien Prat, 9-5; and It Tiz Well, Drayden Van Dye, 6-1.
‘BOOGER’ & BELVOIR REUNITE FOR VICTORY
Memories of years past in Seattle filled the air at Santa Anita following this past Monday’s sixth race, as a pair of former Emerald Downs leading riders, Gallyn (Booger) Mitchell and Vann Belvoir, combined on a $21.00 win mutuel with $12,500 claimer, Jimmy the Juice.
Trained by Belvoir, Jimmy the Juice, who won by 1 ¾ lengths, registered his second career win from 13 starts.
“He’s a good gate rider and he always gives you an honest effort,” said Belvoir, who led all Emerald riders prior to retiring from the saddle following the track’s inaugural season in 1996. “We’ve had good luck together. He’s a hard-working guy with a lot of experience and he’s a good horseman.”
Emerald’s all-time leading rider and a member of the Washington Racing Hall of Fame, Mitchell, 54, overcame a heart attack in April 2013, and, following the death due to heart and kidney failure of his young daughter, Samantha Jo, this past June, decided to come out of a 13-month retirement in November.
“Sami Jo was amazing, the strength and courage she showed . . . ” said Mitchell in an interview with the Auburn (WA) Reporter that was published Nov. 17. “I’ve got my weight down to 115 (pounds) and I’m feeling really good. I started getting on horses three months ago and took my time getting ready. I’ll keep riding as long as I’m having fun.”
Safe to say, there’ll be plenty of fans and horsemen wishing “Booger” all the best this winter at Santa Anita.
FINISH LINES: In a prelude to the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park Jan. 28, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will be available to sign a beautiful free color poster of Arrogate tomorrow beginning at 10:45 a.m. in the Santa Anita saddling paddock…Midnight Storm, front-running winner of Sunday’s Grade II San Pasqual Stakes, likely will pass the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28 and train up to the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 11. “I think we’re leaning towards waiting for the Big ‘Cap,” trainer Phil D’Amato said Friday morning . . . Jerry Hollendorfer assistant Dan Ward said champion filly Songbird, a finalist for 2016 Horse of the Year along with Arrogate and California Chrome, is due at Santa Anita Jan. 24 from WinStar Farm in Kentucky where she has been since suffering her first loss, by the narrowest of noses, after a memorable stretch duel with victorious Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 4 . . .
Argentine-bred Infobedad, the “Secretariat of Claimers” who won Sunday’s sixth race by 26 ½ lengths, believed to be the largest winning margin ever at Santa Anita, didn’t necessarily shock John Sadler with the runaway victory over the wet/fast (sealed) track. “Usually South American horses like the mud, so we thought he’d like the track,” the trainer said. “We thought it (the margin) was a combination of him liking it and some of the others hating it, so it kind of sorted itself out.” Sadler didn’t lose the six-year-old horse that was in for a $25,000 claiming tag, but might keep an eye on the sky before deciding on his next race. “We’ll follow around the radar map and look for rain again,” he said . . . Caesar Dominguez, taking a break from training, has taken the book of apprentice Austin Solis, son of Hall of Fame jockey Alex Solis . . . Agent J.R. Pegram now represents Martin Garcia, formerly with Tony Matos, who now has Santiago Gonzalez . . . Trainer Matt Chew and Santa Anita morning line oddsmaker Jon White will be Tom Quigley‘s guests, Saturday and Sunday respectively, in the East Paddock Gardens at 11:20 a.m. . . . Jockey Fernando Perez, injured in a mishap at Del Mar Dec. 2, was in good spirits at Clockers’ Corner Friday morning but is months away from returning to the saddle. “It’s unfortunate that I was injured,” Perez said, “but it feels good to have a vacation.”
|SANTA ANITA STATISTICS|
|(Current Through Monday, Jan. 2)|
|Norberto Arroyo, Jr.||28||4||2||0||14%||21%||$218,490|
|Drayden Van Dyke||28||3||4||0||11%||25%||$157,388|
|J. Keith Desormeaux||9||2||1||2||22%||56%||$249,915|
Stakes Nominations and Handicap Weights Posted Today
|Monday, January 9|
|Race 3||Claiming – $6,000||$4,500|
|Race 4||Allowance Optional Claiming – $12,500||$7,800|
|Race 5||Claiming – $2,500||$5,500|
|Race 6||Maiden Optional Claiming – $32,000||$6,200|
|Race 8||Claiming – $2,500||$5,500|
|Race 9||Claiming – $2,500||$5,500|