07/27/2006 12:00AM

Arson ruled out in JEH barn fire


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Arson was not the cause of a June 6 barn fire that killed 1997 Horse of the Year Favorite Trick and five other stallions at the JEH Stallion Station in New Mexico, investigators have said.

"We've eliminated any criminal intent," New Mexico's state fire marshal, Joe Chavez, told the Ruidoso News. "We now have engineers in there to see what they can tell us about the actual cause of the fire."

While investigators continue to look into what might have caused the blaze, JEH's owners and staff are planning to rebuild the Hondo, N.M., stallion barn and resume full operations.

In a statement posted on the farm's website, farm co-owner Jim Helzer said, "We are making plans to tear down the damaged facilities and rebuild them with new and even better facilities in time for the 2007 breeding season."

Helzer and his wife, Marilyn, own the Hondo property in partnership with R. D. Hubbard.

The June 6 fire killed Thoroughbred stallions Favorite Trick, Grade 1 winner Saratoga Six, and Gone Hollywood, and Quarter Horse stallions Fredricksburg, The Down Side, and Southern Cartel. Those six stallions made up JEH's entire stallion roster. JEH also operates a Texas farm that is solely owned by the Helzers.

JEH Stallion Station hopes to bring in a similar number of stallions in time for the 2007 breeding season, which opens in February.

"We're in the process of acquiring new stallions," said farm manager Dr. Donald McDonald, who said it was "too early to announce" any names for the prospective stud roster. "We'll probably have much the same mix as we've had historically, in the neighborhood of six or seven stallions, with about half of those being Thoroughbreds and half being Quarter Horses."

JEH Stallion Station's New Mexico division bred about 640 mares last year, with both live covers and the artificial insemination allowed by the Quarter Horse industry. About half of those mares came through the farm, McDonald said.

"We were in our third year of operation this year, and we were at the optimum and almost maximum level of mares we could handle," he said. "We're not opposed to growing should that happen, but we were happy with the level we were at and would be happy to stay at that level."

Investigations into the fire's cause could take a while, and so far the farm does not have a time frame for that, McDonald said.

"We'd hope it would move rapidly, but that's probably not likely," he said. In the meantime, the Helzers and Hubbard are taking bids for reconstructing the stallion barn, and they're on the hunt for new stallions for the New Mexico market.

A. P Jet recovered from fight injuries

A. P Jet, New York's fourth-leading sire who was severely injured in a stallion fight in April that killed Gold Token, has fully recovered.

Dan Hayden, manager of Sugar Maple Farm in Poughquag, N.Y., said that A. P Jet will begin the 2007 breeding season on time. Hayden said he expects A. P Jet will breed 50 to 60 mares next season.

"He's doing great," Hayden said. "He's on a normal schedule, normal feed and everything."

A 17-year-old Fappiano horse, A. P Jet is the sire of such stakes winners as Travelator, Galloping Grocer, and J. P. Jet, among others. He currently has more than $13 million in progeny earnings from seven racing-age crops.

The stallion fight occurred at the farm on the morning of April 30 after A. P Jet became fractious and broke away from his handler while being led to his paddock. He galloped to the paddock of Gold Token, who broke through his own paddock fence. A fight ensued, and the stallions galloped off. Gold Token died when he ran into a tree.

A. P Jet's recovery has taken several months since he was released from a New York equine clinic, Hayden said.

"He came back here two weeks after the incident," he said. "He wasn't in bad shape, but he had been through an ordeal. He's tough."

Hayden said that during the stallion's recuperation, the farm staff hand-walked him and hand-grazed him for limited times in a paddock.

"We babied him back to health," he said.

A. P Jet's popularity as a sire and the bizarre and violent nature of the incident prompted numerous calls and e-mails to the farm as people pulled for the stallion's recovery.

"We had an overwhelming response to his condition," Hayden said. "We got e-mails from all over the world. It was great that people showed so much care for him."