To Buy or Not to Buy: are Uniquely Marked Horses Worth the Hype?

Horses such as the infamous Miss Vista are generally acknowledged as anomalies of the thoroughbred population yet continuously crop up on race tracks all over the world. So how do these horses end up with such strange markings and does it affect their performance on the track?

Miss Vista
Miss Vista

Some breeders, such as Gary Tolchin in New York, have a life-long dream to breed these unique horses. He conducted a lengthy search for a white mare to send to favourite stallion, Lucky Pulpit. He eventually found Old-Fashioned mare, Passionforfashion through social media. The resulting colt is bred on the same cross as leading sire, Tapit and was bred to race so there was no worry about his sales value.

The white pigment in these horses is a result of the interaction between 3 major genes which effect the migration of pigmentation cells in the embryo. Incomplete migration results in a lack of melanocytes in the extremities (head and legs). So whilst it is possible to increase the likelihood of extensive white markings, some commercial breeders end up with unique charges, like Miss Vista, quite by chance. So here is the next dilemma: what do the buyers think of them?

High Chaparral/The Opera House
High Chaparral/The Opera House

It can certainly be argued that a distinctive, attractive horse is easier to syndicate. For the non-racing public, these horses are easily recognisable amidst all the mundane bays at the track and are definitely good in a selfie or two! Tulloch Lodge’s Scarlet Rain was perhaps Darby Racing’s easiest sale with her beautiful white face and markings contrasted with her gorgeous golden coat, immediately popular among their clients. As Dr Andrew Clarke, the chief executive of the Living Legends rest home for retired race champions says, “Everyone likes to be a little different and these horses have that extra stamp, that little unique feature about them.” Kool Kompany, the most high profile stand-out in Europe, was a cheap pinhook sold to Middleham Park racing, one of the largest syndicators in England. He went on to win two Group 2’s.

But they are not only popular with the syndicators. They are also very popular in Japan with owner-breeder, Makato Kaneko registering multiple winning fillies by King Kamehameha. Recently, Japanese business man travelled to the Karaka sales with the sole purpose of purchasing the pure white High Chaparral/The Opera House filly which he secured for $450,000. He heard about this stunning filly through Facebook, another huge advantage to owning one of these horses. Miss Vista has a whole Facebook Fan page of her own and Gary Tochin found his long awaited white mare through Twitter.

Chain Of Fools
Chain Of Fools

So is there any link between their markings and their race performance? Lack of pigmentation can cause problems in extreme cases, namely Lethal White Syndrome which results in the rapid death of the foal. More commonly, the white skin is more susceptible to sun damage and melanomas can form. However, this can be managed effectively and therefore should not affect performance. Look at eight time Group 1 winner, Apache Cat, Kool Kompany, the British-trained sprinter now in training with Chris Waller, and the mighty Miss Vista herself. Tulloch Lodge’s unique beauties include Chain Of Fools with her spotty face, Maid Marilyn the tiny filly with the huge stride, Scarlet Rain that stunning Group 2 winner who recently sold for $950,000 and the up and coming 2YO colt, Winds Of Change.

So, yes I would say they are worth the hype. They bring no end of publicity, the owners love them and it seems they can run!



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