10/12/2007 12:00AM

Caring for John Henry was a big challenge

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - When Hall of Famer and five-time champion John Henry died last Monday at the age of 32, it marked the end of a great racehorse and a veterinary challenge. The gelding enjoyed an unusually long and healthy life, and when he did eventually begin to decline, veterinarian Dr. Mike Beyer and John Henry's caretakers at the Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions found themselves managing age-related problems most horse owners never face.

Until this summer, John Henry remained in surprisingly good health given his age, Beyer recalled.

"When I first started there, I actually had minimal contact with him because he didn't have any significant problems," said Beyer, who treated the two-time Horse of the Year for about four years.

John Henry did have Cushing's disease, an ailment common in old horses that affects hormone release and can manifest itself in a longer-than-normal coat of hair. He also was on a special senior feed that park staff mixed with water to create gruel, because his aged teeth were worn almost level with his gums.

This summer, John Henry began to show signs of kidney trouble, something most Thoroughbreds don't live long enough to face. The kidney trouble was exacerbated in an unusually strong midsummer heat wave, Beyer said. A major strategy was to keep John Henry properly hydrated.

"I think we did two rounds of intravenous fluids for 36 to 48 hours each to try to overhydrate his kidneys," Beyer said. "That did bring his renal values back down to normal range for a few weeks. But on top of that, he had severe weight loss."

Kidney problems can cause protein loss, prompting a horse's body to compensate by breaking down its own protein supply in muscle. Ultimately, John Henry's muscle loss signaled the end was near, Beyer said.

"We didn't want to let him get to the point where he would get down and not be able to get up due to weakness," he said.

Still, John Henry remained cantankerous.

"When he saw me, he would walk very quickly out to the middle of the paddock if they hadn't locked his stall, and once he was out there, he was very difficult to get hold of," Beyer said. "He was even doing that up until the last few weeks."

Those weeks took a toll on park staff, too, said Hall of Champions director Cathy Roby, who worked with John Henry at the park for 16 years.

"We had had to keep him on medicine 24 hours a day just to keep him eating and drinking, and so we were running in shifts," she said. "People were coming back in the middle of the night to give him his medicine. We were exhausted, just tired."

Eventually, John Henry became tired, too, and that was his caretakers' sign that the time had come to let the old gelding go.

Beyer's lasting impression of his famous charge is of the horse's unusual charisma.

"He had a presence that struck a lot of people," he said. "Cathy told me of many older people who sympathized and empathized with him. I think because John was so tenacious they felt like they could be, too. That's what impressed me: incredible strong will, tough, stubborn. But in a good way, and it stuck with him until the end."

Nuckols sets Monarchos's fee at $6K

With the 2008 breeding season around the corner, farms are announcing rosters and fees.

One notable change: 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos has relocated from Claiborne to Nuckols Farm in Midway, where he will stand for $6,000. The 9-year-old Maria's Mon horse is the sire of such 2007 stakes performers as Round Trip Flight and Moyer's Pond.

Claiborne will drop During's fee from $7,500 to $5,000 this year and trim Stroll's fee from $5,000 to $2,500. Fees for the farm's other horses remain unchanged from their 2007 levels, including Seeking the Gold and Pulpit, who will continue to stand for $125,000 and $80,000, respectively. Two additions to Claiborne's roster are Political Force, who will have a $15,000 fee, and Easing Along, a Storm Cat-Cadillacing horse, who will stand for $10,000.

Three Chimneys newcomer Exchange Rate, who relocated this past spring from Padua Stables in Florida, will stand for a higher fee in 2008: $25,000, up from $10,000 this season at Padua. Three horses have reduced fees: Medallist, Point Given, and War Chant. Medallist drops from $8,500 to $7,500, Point Given from $30,000 to $15,000, and War Chant from $30,000 to $20,000.

Three Chimneys will limit the books of its stallions to 110 mares in the Northern Hemisphere season, and in 2008 will put that limit in its contracts, said farm owner Robert Clay.

Rare Elegance sells for $125,000

The Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s fall mixed auction in Ocala, Fla., ended its three open sessions Friday with a six-figure session topper when buyer Marion Montanari went to $125,000 to secure Hip No. 1342, the 4-year-old Forestry mare Rare Elegance. Rare Elegance sold in foal to Yes It's True and was part of Padua Stables' consignment sold through Janie Roper, agent. The mare is from the family of champion Storm Song. The 2007 open sessions sold 413 horses for $2,992,900 for an average price of $7,247 and a $4,200 median; buy-backs were at 29 percent.