Baffled by science and a Japanese cartoon character

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 2:26pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 6:56pm

Punters in Hong Kong are spoilt for choice when it comes to accessing information from the Jockey Club website; myriad replays of races and trials, trackwork times and even reports from the world-class veterinary department – they're all available at the click of a button. But in the case of unwanted 55-1 outsider Luffy yesterday, the detailed diagnosis of his seemingly serious leg issues might have been too much of a good thing.

Luffy loomed as an intriguing runner in a weak Class Four over 1,400m at Sha Tin. As a first starter, he had no prior convictions to hang him for, unlike almost all of his infuriatingly inconsistent rivals. And he was drawn one and seemed to have the necessary speed to take up the coveted box seat behind one-dimensional leader Double Dragon.

Three average trials aside, which at least had him fit, one look at his vet report and the entry for July 31 would have had most doubting whether to part with their hard-earned. Have you got your veterinary text book and dictionary handy? Here goes: “Evidence of sesamoiditis in both front medial proximal sesamoid bones, osteoarthritis and old osteochondritis dissecans lesions in the left front leg and both hind saggital ridges of the distal cannon bones.”

Got that? Good, now go and study veterinary science for five or six years and come back and tell me what it means.

Punters have rules. One of mine is I don’t like the word osteoarthritis appearing in the vet reports of a first-starter. But that’s just me. And Luffy appears to have two types of arthritis – osteochondritis? Now that sounds nasty.

If someone was selling you an unraced horse and they said: “He’s as good as new. He has just got a touch of sesamoiditis in the front and some old osteochondritis dissecans lesions in the back, but they’re only on the hind saggital ridges of the distal cannon bones though and he’ll scrub OK after a bit of work mate” – you’d probably think you were talking to a used car salesman posing as a bloodstock agent (although there’s plenty of them and they tend not to use words ending in “-itis” when describing their horses).

Another rule of mine - other than putting a line through runners that don’t have the words "happy", “lucky” or “dragon” in their names - is that when a recent vet report contains a word containing five syllables or more, I halve my bet. This one has three words with five or more – that rings alarm bells big time.

So what does the entry actually mean? We could go on, and on, and translate what “osteochondritis  dissecans lesions” and “saggital ridges” are, but we took one for the team and spoke to a number of vets and can now put it in layman’s terms: he had sore legs.

They were sore because of some things that can happen when a horse is growing, or something like that. It isn’t a positive, but it’s not uncommon either, and it’s not necessarily indicative of long-term problems or an inability to gallop (although, after speaking to trainer Tony Cruz, in this case it probably will limit the horse in the future).

The overly wordy, but brilliant, piece of writing in late July seems the work of an enthusiastic and well-educated clinician, who clearly loves his work.

But one of his colleagues, who clearly doesn’t share the same love of the veterinary science lexicon and its multisyllabic terminology, must have made the following entry for the horse, in September: "Lame left front leg". Four simple, single syllable words that sum up the situation perfectly. So, after completing my veterinary science degree, now you’re telling me he has a “lame left front leg"? – but what about the hours of study and sacrifices I’ve made? That PhD I completed on the saggital ridges of hind cannon bones? And what about the osteochondritis dissecans lesions, how are they?

Luffy is ironically named after a character from the popular Japanese cartoon “One Piece”: Monkey D “Straw Hat” Luffy. We say ironic, because Monkey D Luffy is something of a shape shifter with rubber-like limbs that he uses to transform into weapons in his battles against pirates and the “World Government”. And Luffy is a racehorse waging war with the fact his legs are less flexible than those on your antique oak-wood dining table.

Something the Jockey Club vets should look into is sourcing some “Gum Gum fruits” for Luffy (the racehorse) as this berry is what appears to have given Luffy (iconic anime character) his supernatural powers of elasticity, but we can’t be sure that Gum Gum fruit doesn’t swab and isn’t on the list of prohibited substances. It probably should be.

At least Luffy’s entry doesn’t contain a typo, as appears the case with Happy Tumbler and the “suspicious” fracture of his third metacarpal bone (luckily it wasn't the second metacarpal, because that sounds way worse).

I’m sure poor old Happy Tumbler doesn’t find it suspicious – he is pretty sure it’s broken and it hurts like hell. He and his vets do suspect it was fractured though. But then again, maybe it's not a grammatical error: Was there foul play and fence-jumpers involved and he copped the injury as pay back for a disappointing run? Or perhaps it showed up on the scan as a particularly menacing looking fracture and couldn’t be trusted?

The lesson learnt for punters is to trust your instinct and don’t be scared of big words, they’re not always a red flag and they might even get you better odds.