05/27/2004 11:00PM

All mostly calm after major storm

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - A severe thunderstorm that spawned a tornado Thursday night in northern Fayette County, Ky., appeared Friday to have left major breeding farms relatively unscathed.

The tornado, which injured five people, caused extensive damage to homes in Lexington's Masterson Station and Russell Cave Road areas, and the storm knocked out power to at least 15,500 people in Fayette County.

The Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, located between Masterson Station and Russell Cave, sustained some roof damage and lost power, temporarily requiring the clinic to close. But the hospital regained electricity and was open again by mid-morning Friday. There were no injuries to horses or staff.

"Everybody rode out the storm," Rood and Riddle's Robin Murray said. "It's good to be in concrete-block buildings. There are shingles everywhere, but we've had no major structural damage, just uprooted trees, smashed fences, and lots of debris that blew in."

Flooding and fallen trees and power lines closed several roads, including Newtown Pike, where Fasig-Tipton's headquarters and sale pavilion is located.

"Our power and phones are out, and we've had tree damage, but nothing disastrous," said Boyd Browning, a Fasig-Tipton executive. The sale company was closed Friday and routed phone calls automatically to its Maryland office.

Many farms in the storm's path reported little or no structural damage, with trees and fencing the main casualties.

"It's not very bad here," said Michael Hernon, a Gainesway Farm official. "We have limbs and a couple of small trees down. I've talked to a couple of other farms, and they have the same kind of damage. Everyone's just cleaning up. Fortunately, the people and horses are fine, and that's what's important."

Education meeting draws 600

When the newly organized grass-roots lobbying and education group Kentucky Equine Educational Partnership attracted an estimated 600 people to a May 26 meeting in Lexington, John Sikura, owner of Hill 'n' Dale Farm, was especially pleased.

At a meeting last December at Keeneland, Sikura initially called for Kentucky's breeders, owners, and affiliated businesses to mobilize and educate state legislators about the industry.

Since making that suggestion, Sikura and other prominent farm owners - including Airdrie owner and former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, Jr., and WinStar co-owner Bill Casner - have helped raise more than $350,000 for the partnership. Though the effort is an all-breeds initiative, one of its major concerns is reinstatement of a significant Kentucky breeders' awards program for the Thoroughbred business.

"There are two vital components," Sikura said of the partnership. "We want to show that we represent a large number of voters and that we are well-funded to present our case and advocate and support those who support us. Part of our process is undoing misrepresentations of the horse industry, and that's why education is vital. We want Kentuckians to know that our success will be their success."

Among the "misrepresentations" the educational group says it wants to tackle is the impression that horse owners overwhelmingly are wealthy, and that the equine industry contributes little to the state economy. To help fight that image, the partnership is enlisting small breeders, veterinarians, feed companies, and farriers, among others, for membership.

At the May 26 meeting at the Kentucky Horse Park, partnership organizers unveiled membership levels ranging from $5 to $100,000. Sikura, one of the charter members who has contributed $50,000, believes the group is fighting for an important cause.

"We are under a real, not a perceived, threat from other states' incentive programs and other forms of competition," he said, adding that Hill 'n' Dale sent 17 mares to foal in Canada this year so that the resulting runners would be eligible for Ontario's breeder awards.

"While they're there, another vet and another blacksmith will be working on those horses. Someone else will be delivering hay and feed for them, and someone else will be handling the accounting for them. That's all benefiting Ontario, because Ontario got involved and said, 'What can we do to elevate our horse industry?' Horses are mobile. The person who sends a mare here to be bred can send a mare anywhere to be bred."

* A Scott County, Ky., jury has awarded former Vinery owner George Hofmeister and his wife Kay $28 million after determining that Cincinnati Insurance Company acted in bad faith by delaying payment after Hofmeister was badly injured in a 1998 car crash. Hofmeister is best known in the Thoroughbred business as the former owner of Vinery with the farm's founder, Ben Walden Jr. Hofmeister sold Vinery to Tom Simon and currently owns Highland Farm near Paris, Ky. That farm is on the market. According to a recent report in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Hofmeister's net worth plummeted from $196 million to $6 million after the car crash.

* An unidentified private horse farm in Montgomery County, Md., has been under voluntary quarantine since March 25 while state veterinary authorities investigate the illnesses of 12 horses, including four that have been euthanized. According to a release from state veterinarian Dr. Phyllis Cassano, authorities "are testing for several diseases, including but not limited to equine herpesvirus. They have made no diagnosis and so far have seen no cases at other farms."