03/28/2003 12:00AM

All hope not lost for War Emblem

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - When word came earlier this week that 2002 Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem has shown little interest in covering mares at Shadai Stud in Japan, it didn't take long for Dr. Phil McCarthy's phone to ring in Kentucky.

McCarthy is a veterinarian known for his work on equine fertility issues, and War Emblem's insurers, Lloyds of London, has asked him to act as a consultant on the stallion's case. McCarthy hasn't examined the horse or made a diagnosis yet, but he did say this week that War Emblem's lack of libido might turn out to be reversible.

"I definitely think there's hope for him," McCarthy said. "My personal view is that very few horses that have what is essentially a libido problem are irreversible. Most get over it pretty rapidly and go on to have successful careers at stud.

"It's not as unusual as you'd think for a horse to have these behavioral problems," he added. "What's unusual is for it to last as long as it has with War Emblem."

McCarthy said that in three decades of work, he has only known one horse that showed a permanent aversion to breeding. More common are stallions like the young horse McCarthy worked with every day for three months before getting him to successfully cover a mare.

"He showed varying degrees of interest, and it just took the right mare at the right time," McCarthy said.

But most of McCarthy's equine clients have a different problem: infertility or low fertility. The most famous horse to pass through McCarthy's Watercress Farm near Paris, Ky., is two-time Horse of the Year Cigar. When Coolmore Stud purchased a three-quarters interest in the horse from Allen Paulson for the 1997 breeding season, Cigar's total value soared to $25 million - only to collapse when the farm discovered he was unable to impregnate mares. Italian-based insurers Assicurazioni Generali paid out a claim and sent the horse to McCarthy in a last-ditch effort to restore his fertility. It was to no avail, at least so far. Cigar currently resides as part of a popular exhibit at the Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions. Every fall McCarthy - at the insurance company's request - has the champion and Breeders' Cup Classic winner vanned from Lexington to Paris for examination.

"The issue is whether he will show improvement," McCarthy said of Cigar, whose sperm cells have shown no motility, or movement. "When I looked at him the first time, I didn't think he'd improve, and his sperm quality hasn't gone up since then. It's an absolute mystery."

The outlook is bleak for horses like Cigar. "Essentially, there's nothing you can do," McCarthy said.

But, some problems, such as simple immaturity or sperm death due to high fever or injury, can be reversed. A positive example is that of A P Valentine, another Coolmore outcast who resulted in a $16 million insurance settlement when he appeared to be infertile in his first season last year.

McCarthy said that A P Valentine, now 5, has successfully impregnated some mares at Watercress and could have a future as a stallion with books of 30 or 40 mares. That's far below the 150 to 200 mares that Coolmore stallions usually cover, but it is enough to make A P Valentine, an A. P. Indy horse, a useful prospect for another farm.

McCarthy thinks that additional time may have made the difference for A P Valentine, but there are few other cures for infertility and subfertility.

"There has never been an effective treatment for all forms of male infertility, especially in a situation like Thoroughbred breeding that does not allow intervention and requires natural covers," McCarthy said. "A horse like Cigar is just a casualty of the breeding shed."

Cigar earning his keep

Coolmore's loss has been the public's gain, in Cigar's case. He is among the Kentucky Horse Park's most popular attractions.

Cigar's one-acre paddock faces that of another two-time Horse of the Year, John Henry. The two sometimes engage in spontaneous match races, according to Hall of Champions manager Cathy Roby.

"Cigar usually takes the initiative," she said. "He'll snort at John across the fence, and they'll start running. People love that."

Cigar's regular visitors include his former trainer and regular jockey, Hall of Famers Bill Mott and Jerry Bailey.

"Jerry Bailey likes to kind of come in quietly and not make a big deal about it," Roby said. "One day he was here holding Cigar out behind the barn and a man was trying to take a picture of the horse, and he finally asked Jerry if he could please get out of the picture so he could get a photo of the horse."

Park staff estimates that Cigar attracts about one million visitors annually. At $12 per admission ticket, that's a pretty good income.

"He's definitely helped the park," Roby said.

* David and Ginger Mullins, who announced this week they will sell their Doninga Farm near Lexington and pursue separate interests in the Thoroughbred business, will establish their own bloodstock agencies. Ginger Mullins will operate a full-service bloodstock agency, Scarborough Bloodstock, specializing in private sales, consultation, and bloodstock management. David Mullins will continue to sell horses under the Doninga Bloodstock banner, focusing on small consignments for select sales.