07/14/2004 12:00AM

Bank contends old mare too valuable to give away

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Bonnie's Poker, the 22-year-old dam of 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm, is the subject of a hearing in West Palm Beach, Fla., on July 23 that could decide whether her owner is allowed to pension her.

Kris and William C. Jakeman operate the commercial breeding operation Latitude 27, which has filed for bankruptcy. The Jakemans want to pension Bonnie's Poker to the Old Friends equine retirement facility in Midway, Ky., saying the mare's age and history of difficult foalings make her worth relatively little as a broodmare and will put her at risk of death if she is bred again. But according to the Jakemans and their attorney, creditor National City Bank is contesting the mare's retirement, saying it has had the mare appraised as an asset worth $25,000. That claim, if successful, could put Bonnie's Poker in the breeding shed or up for sale.

Kris Jakeman said Bonnie's Poker, who is boarding at a Midway farm, was appraised in November 2003 for $150,000, when she was carrying a Fusaichi Pegasus foal.

"She was in good health then," Jakeman said, but added that the mare had had a history of difficult foalings since 1996 and had needed significant veterinary aid to give birth. Jakeman shipped Bonnie's Poker to Lexington's Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital earlier this year when the mare suffered complications while foaling her Fusaichi Pegasus colt.

"We almost lost her," Jakeman said. "We realized then that it was over. We knew no one would buy her just to pay for her as a pet, and our vet suggested Old Friends. We realized she was purely an economic risk for us at this point, not worth our company pursuing the costs of breeding, and breeding her would jeopardize the mare's life."

The Jakemans intended to sell Bonnie's Poker for $1,000 to Old Friends, then donate $1,000 back to the organization.

The 2004 Fusaichi Pegasus colt out of Bonnie's Poker died this spring. Jakeman said National City Bank reappraised Bonnie's Poker, who was not in foal, at $25,000 four days before the Fusaichi Pegasus colt's death and contested the Jakemans' plan to pension the mare, rather than breed or sell her. Jakeman contends that the bank's appraisal did not take the mare's age and breeding history into account, and she has provided a June 11 letter from Keeneland vice-president Harvie Wilkinson confirming that the auction house would not accept a mare 18 or older that was not in foal at the time of sale.

National City Bank's Florida attorney, Tina Talarchyk, and equine lending executive Scott McCauley did not return phone calls seeking comment.

"But for the fact that we're dealing with a horse, this would have been a fight among appraisers," Jakeman's lawyer, Lou Maracek, said. "But we have some pretty good humane arguments.

"The way this differs from other bankruptcy hearings is that we're dealing with a horse of some reputation, and there are considerations other than just valuation."

For the hearing in Florida on July 23, the Jakemans intend to provide depositions from veterinary and bloodstock agency authorities regarding the mare's breeding soundness and worth.

"I think the Jakemans are being extraordinarily humane," Maracek said. "Normally when there is this kind of difference over an asset's appraisal, we would advise a debtor to give the bank the horse and let them mark down the debt by $25,000, and it's the bank's problem."

Jakeman said she's concerned that National City Bank's attempt to block the pensioning will have chilling implications for other horsemen.

"I can tell you that in this circumstance, a bank is behind me pushing me to make a bad decision to keep this mare in production," Jakeman said. "If they are successful with this, a precedent will be set that a bank can act as a trustee when they should not and put pressure on managers to make wrong decisions."

Attorney Maracek said that the Bonnie's Poker situation is unusual, and its outcome may be "persuasive, but not precedential."

Jakeman says she's determined not to let Bonnie's Poker be put up for sale or back in the breeding shed.

"The ultimate outcome I will not allow or tolerate is, if Bonnie's Poker is purchased and put back in service and doesn't die giving birth, at some point she will be discarded," she said. "That is a day I will not allow to happen."