05/26/2006 12:00AM

Barbaro faces long road to stud

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - On Friday, the Barbaro update from the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton equine hospital was positive. The Kentucky Derby winner's condition was "excellent," according to a statement New Bolton issued, and he was showing good appetite.

But the 3-year-old colt still faces a long recovery that is fraught with potentially life-threatening risks such as infection and laminitis. It's far too early to say whether Barbaro will ever make it to stud, but if he does, bloodstock analysts say, his value would likely remain considerable.

Like the rest of the viewing public, bloodstock experts were shocked and saddened by the catastrophic turn of events that left Barbaro fighting for his life. They say the value of his survival, first and foremost, is priceless. A future breeding career, as owner Roy and Gretchen Jackson put it, is only "a supreme hope" for now.

In the weeks between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the Jacksons fielded many inquiries from suitors for the colt's breeding rights. And though they made it clear they wouldn't make a decision until after the Triple Crown, they did allow interested farms' representatives, including Coolmore Stud's Paul Shanahan, to view the horse in Kentucky and Maryland. When the horses entered the Preakness starting gate on May 20, market buzz put Barbaro's value between $25 million and $30 million - and up to $50 million or more if he won the Preakness. The consensus today is that his worth as a stallion would remain at least between $20 million and $30 million, based on his race record, his emphatic victory in the Derby, and a pedigree and race record that suggest he would be a versatile sire. Some estimates still run as high as $50 million, according to bloodstock agent Michael S. Brown of Lexington.

"If he survives this and is able to go on and cover mares, after what he's gone through, it gives him a sort of messianic quality," Brown said. "It's a big if, and it shouldn't be taken for granted that he will survive and stand at stud. But if he does, he has a tremendous aura. He will have done the impossible."

In addition, Brown and others say, Barbaro's racing achievements hold lasting value.

"I thought Fusaichi Pegasus was the best Derby winner I'd seen, but this horse left that in the dust with the way he pulled away from them," Brown said. Coolmore Stud purchased 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus for a total stud value of $60 million.

If Barbaro does survive, the question remains whether he would be sound enough to breed. The mating act is strenuous, especially in a market where popular stallions can routinely cover more than 150 mares a season.

"I will say that hind-limb problems are potentially more problematic if we get to the point where Barbaro enters the breeding business, because he has to mount the mare," Barbaro's surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson, said in a press conference on May 23. "So that could be a problem. But that's a long way from now."

Stallions have come back from severe injuries to cover mares. In 1987, Nureyev broke his right hock in a nearly fatal injury but later returned to stud. Farms also can manage fragile breeding stock differently, by restricting a stallion's book of mares, for example. That could actually boost Barbaro's value in the marketplace, some theorize, by making his relatively small first crop more sought-after.

Richardson also noted that Barbaro's chances of making it to the breeding shed by February 2007 are very slim, even assuming the colt continues to progress well. That could allow for the emergence of a new superstar who attracts the attention of Kentucky's big commercial breeding farms. But, as Lexington-based Lincoln Collins of the Kern Lillingston bloodstock agency said, "Barbaro's value will be considerable, come what may.

"His value at this point is his value to racing in the hope that he survives," he added. "All we really care about is that the horse is all right."

Afternoon Deelites back at stud

Afternoon Deelites, who was sidelined in April after a reaction to a strangles vaccine compromised his sperm, is back on Clear Creek Stud's breeding roster.

"We'll cover a few mares and make sure we're all right," said Val Murrell, manager of the Folsom, La., farm. "The semen evaluation was pretty positive. Not perfect, but very much on the improve."

The farm hopes to breed Afternoon Deelites to about 20 more mares this season. He already has covered about a dozen in 2006.

Afternoon Deelites, a 14-year-old Private Terms horse, stands for $4,500. He is the sire of 2006 stakes winners Three Hour Nap and Nob Hill Deelite.