02/20/2003 12:00AM

Farms persevere in storm's aftermath

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The severe ice storm that hit central Kentucky last Saturday has made life difficult for Thoroughbred farms in the midst of breeding and foaling season.

The storm coated the Bluegrass with an inch of ice and brought down trees and power lines. Many horse farms remained without light, heat, and hot water on Thursday afternoon - nearly a week after the storm - as repair crews and tree services carefully worked their way through Fayette and surrounding counties.

So far, there have been no reported injuries to horses or farm workers, but the conditions have made some operations, such as foaling, riskier than usual.

At Idle Hour Farm in Paris, Ky., owner David Hager had a nervous moment Sunday night when one of his mares gave birth to a Cat Thief filly earlier than expected. "We used three flashlights and a car's headlights for light to foal this mare," Hager said. "The mare was a little bit early, but everything turned out fine."

But things weren't entirely fine outside the barn: Hager soon discovered that his house had about eight inches of floodwater in the basement, an unpleasant byproduct of frozen pipes and the five inches of rain the storm also dumped on parts of the area.

On Thursday, temperatures were expected to rise into the mid-40's, and ice tumbled from the trees as it thawed. That was a welcome sign for local horsemen, who finally were able to begin turning horses back out into paddocks. Keeping horses in their stalls during the icy conditions made hard work for stable staff that had to regularly muck out and haul water to stalls that normally would have been empty.

The damage also disrupted breeding plans. Mare owners have to phone to book their mares for visits to stallions, a task that became impossible in places where phone lines were down. On Thursday there were still plenty of nurseries that could only communicate by cell phones, "and even those aren't all working right," Hager said.

Even in cases where phone lines were up, blocked roadways and driveways made it impossible for some mare owners to get their horses off the farm.

Fred Mitchell, who owns Clarkland Farm in Lexington with his wife, Nancy, took road-clearing duties into his own hands Monday. Driving one of Clarkland's tractors fitted with a snowplow, Mitchell cleared debris from a one-mile stretch of two-lane Bryan Station Road so local traffic, including horse trailers like his own, could safely reach Lexington's main roads. Claiborne Farm in Paris sent its tractors out to do the same along Winchester Road.

"It's brought out the best in people," said Claiborne manager Gus Koch. In addition to its horses, Claiborne also has 30 employee houses on its property, and most were still without power Thursday.

Koch said Claiborne had begun breeding mares again and had foaled 10 horses between Saturday night and Wednesday in its cold, darkened foaling barn. Farm staff also was working to haul firewood and buy generators for the houses still without power on the farm.

"This is the worst storm any of us can remember seeing," Koch said.

Iron Works Pike, a two-lane road heavily lined by ancient trees, was still blocked on one end as tree crews felled damaged oaks near historic Castleton Lyons Farm. Castleton was shut from Sunday until Wednesday and still has no power on part of the farm.

"We're better off than a lot of other places," said Castleton employee Betsy Hager, wife of Idle Hour's David Hager. "We canceled breeding our mares on Monday and Tuesday because we felt it wasn't safe for them to be on the roads. But since then we've sent mares to Airdrie, Gainsborough, Ashford, and Hill n' Dale, and everybody's gotten through all right. Heck. It's only Feb. 17, early in the breeding season, so it wasn't worth risking our people and our horses to keep those appointments. But it's going to take a long time to clean up."

* Keeneland has cataloged a record 262 juveniles to its April 2-year-old auction, scheduled for April 15 at 1:30 p.m. That number eclipsed last year's record of 253 lots.

* The English-based auction house Tattersalls has named Rodney Rae its Southeast Asian representative, effective immediately. Rae, who is based in Australia, is managing director of the Thoroughbred Racing Bureau in Melbourne.