12/03/2004 1:00AM

Claiborne's Koch adapts to change


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Claiborne Farm manager Gus Koch, recently named farm manager of the year by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club, has been in the horse business full time since 1968. That was the year he left the Marine Corps and took a job at Stoner Creek Stud in Paris, Ky.

Since then, Koch has worked at Windfields in Maryland and Canada, and at Claiborne since 1978.

He has witnessed Thoroughbred breeding's rise from niche agriculture to big business. Along the way, Koch says, the farm manager's job has gotten more complicated but also easier, thanks to technology.

In 1969, when Charlie Kenny hired him at Stoner Creek, Koch made just $1.15 an hour.

"No wonder they only paid me

$64 a week," he said with a laugh recently. "About all we had to do was feed 'em and turn 'em out. Back then, when a mare foaled we'd send her owner a postcard saying, 'Your mare foaled. Bay colt.' Nowadays, everybody wants telephone calls or e-mails with constant communication about their horses."

Today's farm managers also get their information faster. In his office at Claiborne, Koch points to a three-inch-thick book of teasing records, the paperwork about each mare: when she was teased, when she ovulated, when she was bred, and so on. Until 2002, Koch explained, if he or a client needed an up-to-the-minute report on a mare's status, he would have to wait until that paperwork arrived in his office, or else track down one of the barn foremen who fill out the forms. But last year Claiborne started using Jockey Club software that makes the information available electronically. The foremen enter each mare's data into a handheld computer and save the information in the database, which Koch can access via his computer.

Those changes have made life easier, Koch said. But animal husbandry remains as demanding as ever. Claiborne famously has resisted the lure of Southern Hemisphere breeding and stallion books of 150 mares a season. But, Koch noted, "Even our books have gotten much larger than they were when I started back at Stoner Creek. Book sizes then averaged in the upper 40's there. We now have several here at Claiborne that might breed more than 100. With larger book sizes, it's more difficult to get a mare in to a stallion exactly when you want, and you know you aren't going to get a double on her.

So we can't waste any covers. Everybody has to be extra accurate on determining ovulation now, and I think we've all improved on that."

Despite the changes, Koch said, "The way we raise horses at Claiborne has stayed pretty much the same. We're trying to raise athletes, and a lot of our horses are going for racing stables, not sales. So we can raise them a little more rugged. They're out there roughing it in the herd."

Animal husbandry is still unpredictable. "New diseases hit us and mares find brand-new ways to abort," Koch said.

And sometimes even the most promising horse can throw a truly awful curve, as Koch recalled in his speech to the club Friday night in Lexington.

"We were test-breeding two-time Breeders' Cup winner Lure one afternoon at the shed, and I snuck a peek at the dismount sample," he said. "I turned to Seth [Hancock, Claiborne owner] and said, 'Nothing to worry about here.' Five months later, Lloyd's had to pay off a $10 million fertility claim on Lure. Funny thing about Seth, he hasn't forgotten that."

Champali to stud next year

Multiple Grade 3 winner Champali will enter stud in 2005 at the Greathouse family's Glencrest Farm in Midway, Ky. A 4-year-old Glitterman colt, Champali will stand for a $7,500 fee.

Trained by Greg Foley for Lloyd Madison Farms, Champali won eight stakes, including the Grade 3 Smile Sprint Handicap, Phoenix Breeders' Cup Stakes, Aristides Breeders' Cup Handicap, and Iroquois Stakes. He earned $1,073,794 from a lifetime record of 22-11-2-4.

Champali is out of the Dixieland Band mare Radioactivity, making him a full brother to dual stakes winner Drexel Monorail.

- The Sales Integrity Task Force has tentative plans to release its recommended code of ethics for bloodstock sales on Dec. 16, according to task force chairman Cot Campbell.

- Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., has announced that multiple Grade 2 winner During (Cherokee Run-Blading Saddle, by Blade) will stand for $10,000 in 2005, his first year at stud.

- Bonnie's Poker, dam of 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm, has arrived at the Old Friends equine retirement facility, where she is expected to live out the rest of her days. Bonnie's Poker had been the subject of a lawsuit between owners William and Kris Jakeman and creditor National City Bank, which had at one time sought to block the mare's retirement.

- Fasig-Tipton Midlantic's December mixed sale will run from Dec. 5-6 at Timonium, Md. Sessions start at 10 a.m. A late addition to the catalog is Jezebella, a daughter of Wild Again and multiple graded-stakes-placed For All Seasons; now in foal to Hennessy, the mare will sell through the Thomas J. Gallo Sales Agency.