Thoroughbred registries don’t restrict horses based on color. All that matters is bloodlines and speed. But selective breeding can lead to a limited pool of colors, which is why most Thoroughbreds are bay, chestnut or gray and the occasional black horse thrown in for variety.
The colt is the son of The Opera House, a mare who was said to be the first white Thoroughbred sold at auction in Australia when she went through a yearling sale in 2008. She had a moderately successful racing career—one win and five places in nine starts—before being retired. The Opera House produced a white filly named Casta Diva by the bay stallion High Chaparral. Casta Diva was sold at the New Zealand Premier Yearling Sale last year.
The terminology around white horses is not always intuitive to newcomers to the horse world. While older horses with white-colored coats aren’t all that rare, they aren’t technically white horses in equestrian parlance. Most white horses were born black, bay or chestnut, but these horses “gray out” as they age—with each year they lose some of their base color and grow more white hairs. Sometimes these horses go through a dapple gray phase before becoming flea-bitten gray or turning almost pure white. While the coat color changes dramatically from birth through the senior years, those horses are always classified as gray.
Like his mom and half-sister, the colt who went through the New Zealand sale this week is a true white; he was born that color and will stay that color. Another difference between a true white and a gray horse is the unpigmented pink skin visible around the horse’s eyes and muzzle. Gray horses will primarily have black skin.
While his unusual coloring certainly gave the colt a bigger spotlight and likely helped propel his purchase price, it remains to be seen if he’ll be fast on the track. The colt’s future trainer, Ciaron Maher, has high hopes for the colt’s racing future.
“He’s got a good hip on him, good attitude, he swings along pretty well and apart from the fact that he’s white he’s a pretty good type,” Maher told the Australian horse racing website G1X. “But I’ll be treating him like any other horse. It doesn’t matter about the color.”
Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky. www.lesliepotterphoto.com