HALLANDALE, FL. On January 6, 2012, Gulfstream Park held a $51,500 Maiden Special Weight race for 3-year-old fillies at 6 furlongs on dirt. Todd Pletcher sent out first-time starter The Last Meow for Town and Country Farms. This filly is one of only three offspring from Storm Cat’s last crop and hence her name. She took the lead out of the gate and won by 7 ½ lengths in 1:09.82.

After the track photographer took The Last Meow’s picture in the Winner’s Circle, the groom removed her saddle.  One could not help but notice that she has a significant case of the genetic deformity lordosis, also known as swayback or low in the back or soft in the back. Curvature of the spine is seen in about 1 percent of all horses.

This defect no doubt accounted for the bidding on The Last Meow stalling at $220,000 at the Saratoga select summer yearling sale in 2010, despite the fact that she is by the outstanding sire Storm Cat and out of the Grade III-winning mare Rich Woman by Successful Appeal.

A study at the University of Kentucky found that lordosis does not inhibit broodmares from carrying foals to full term. Similarly, the mechanics of performance horses like jumpers and American Saddlebred show horses are not usually interfered with by the deformity. However, the study also said that racehorses with lordosis are often negatively affected, meaning it impedes their speed.

The business of selecting weanlings and yearlings for racing is a risky and inexact proposition. Some of the most perfectly conformed entries with the bluest of bloodlines have failed as racehorses. Not one of the nine most expensive auction yearlings in history won more than three races and two of them never even made it to the races. The record price paid for a Thoroughbred at auction is $16 million for the 2-year-old The Green Monkey in 2006, who turned in a torrid time of nine and four-fifths seconds for an eighth of a mile. In three career starts, he finished third, fourth, and fourth.

On the other hand, some of the best racehorses have had conformation flaws that turned off prospective buyers. Northern Dancer (too small) and Sunday Silence (sickle-hocked) are prominent examples of yearlings that did not reach their reserve price at auction, yet went on to become not only Hall of Fame inductees but sensational sires as well.

Looking back on the careers of racehorses can be like attending a high school class reunion, where the kid voted “most likely to succeed” forty or fifty years ago has badly underachieved, while the supposed dunce or clown that struggled to graduate has eclipsed the rest of the class in professional acclaim.

The chance to buy a racehorse prospect that others spurn because of conformation imperfections and/or a deficient pedigree and then have that ugly duckling turn into a swan is what makes for great intrigue. It is like selecting Tom Brady in the sixth round of the NFL draft and subsequently watching him develop into a surefire Hall of Fame selection.

Whether The Last Meow will go on to be a graded stakes winner will be interesting to watch. When she runs, she epitomizes the adage “pretty is as pretty does.”

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business