Horse falls between 2 stools
(photo at link)
September 15, 2009
LES Kosklin admits there were times when his promising four-year-old mare, Tuscan Abbe, showed the aggressive behaviour of a stallion, particularly when she was near other mares.
At first, the harness racing trainer thought nothing of it. But then the horse won an event at Bankstown and a swab test revealed elevated levels of testosterone.
Officials suspected doping and raided Kosklin's Newcastle stables in search of evidence. They found none and it was only when the pacer was given an internal examination by a reproductive specialist that the truth emerged.
Tuscan Abbe is a hermaphrodite: a female horse possessing a male Y chromosome and internal male testes that produce large amounts of testosterone, known in racing circles as an intersex mare.
The case, which comes hard on the heels of revelations about South Africa's world champion 800-metre runner, Caster Semenya, has serious implications for Tuscan Abbe. It is likely she will no longer be able to compete in fillies and mares events.
Tuscan Abbe's unusual gender was revealed after racing stewards asked the Newcastle Equine Centre to examine her.
Reproductive vet Dr Cecelia Cortina Di Favria did an ultrasound and concluded that something was amiss.
''Cecelia had an extensive look through her and we were convinced something was not normal,'' the centre's Dr Patrick Kelly said. ''The mare doesn't look like she has a uterus, and potentially has two testicles inside her abdomen.
''We can't be sure they are testicles, we assume they are because they are the right size, the right consistency, and they are sitting in the right spot where ovaries normally are … and they are certainly not ovaries.''
A DNA test confirmed the presence of a Y chromosome.
Kosklin believes Tuscan Abbe's testosterone levels are cyclical. A second swab was negative for testosterone, but two weeks later her testosterone levels were ''through the roof''.
After the Bankstown win, Tuscan Abbe won a $10,000 Sires Stakes race for fillies at Newcastle. She then placed third at the Sires Stakes Final at Harold Park, collecting $10,000.
It is unlikely her owners will have to refund the prize money, because no swabs were taken at either event, so there is no evidence she had high levels of testosterone those times.
While it is rare, Tuscan Abbe's circumstances are not unique. A Canadian standardbred called Arizona Helen was discovered earlier this year with anatomical features of a male and female. There is also a horse racing in Victoria called What Am I, which has never raced exclusively against females, that is also intersex.