06/20/2002 12:00AM

Getting to the bottom of horse slaughter


LEXINGTON, Ky. - For the first time, a Thoroughbred organization will seek to determine how many horses end up at slaughterhouses and where those horses come from.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which operates 22 retirement farms for more than 600 Thoroughbreds, will commission the study.

Foundation president John Stuart, a Lexington bloodstock agent, said the TRF has allocated up to $25,000 for the research project.

The TRF is close to hiring a professional research firm to conduct the study, which TRF co-founder Diana Pikulski said could take a year to finalize.

"We expect to have a preliminary report within a couple of months, but the numbers may not be finalized until after a full season of racing," Pikulski said, noting that there appears to be a seasonal flux to equine slaughter, with more horses arriving at slaughterhouses in the fall.

"We want to determine where Thoroughbreds that end up in slaughterhouses are coming from, how many there are, what condition they're in, what alternatives there are to slaughtering those horses, and what it will take to circumvent the slaughter process and get these horses to a different outcome earlier in their lives," Pikulski said. "In the case of racehorses, how can we get them from the racetrack when they are still in a useable state? There is such a demand for Thoroughbreds, and in most cases they do make good riding horses."

Word of the study came Thursday, just one day after Wingsea, the 21-year-old dam of millionaire Polar Expedition, sold at the Fayette County circuit courthouse for $2,000. The sheriff's auction took place after the mare's owner, James Cody, failed to pay Hilary Boone's Wimbledon Farm nearly $30,000 in bills relating to the mare's care. Three bidders, including TRF representative Michael Blowen, showed up out of concern the mare might be purchased for meat. Ultimately, the mare went to veterinarian Dr. Dede McGehee's Heaven Trees Farm, where she will live out her days.

"It's fairly commonly known that barren broodmares are sometimes sent to auction in large numbers by people who know that the only person there to buy that horse is the person buying for meat," Pikulski said. "We've had a number of these mares in our program that have made gentle, nice companion horses and riding horses. We shouldn't overlook these horses, because they are a significant part of the industry. They're just not as noticed, because they're not at the racetrack."

Pikulski added that the TRF's slaughter study should help determine whether auction houses' move to raise the minimum bid to $1,000 has helped prevent the sale of Thoroughbred mares for meat or whether it has simply caused owners to ship mares to cheaper slaughter auctions.

"It's a massive undertaking," Pikulski said of the study. "But our mission is to stop slaughter of Thoroughbred racehorses. In order to do that, we have to know where the horses are coming from and what steps to take to ensure that those horses have second careers or retirements before they ever reach the slaughterhouse."

Online auction off

Equine Spectrum, which operates an online bloodstock auction service at its website, has canceled its plans to introduce live Internet bidding on the June 22 Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation juvenile sale at Arlington Park. Under the original plan, buyers would have been able to bid live from Equinespectrum.com as Fasig-Tipton auctioneers conducted the sale at Arlington.

Equine Spectrum cited concerns about bandwidth requirements as its reason for canceling the live Internet bidding.

"The technologies are proven, the procedures are well defined," Equine Spectrum head Dan Kelliher said in a release Thursday. "Sale hosting facilities, however, do need to be better educated as to the communications requirements needed for these tools to be effective."

Etc. . . .

Equine Spectrum will list online catalog information and pedigree updates for 37 lots from the reduction of Bockel Farm and Lindenwood Farm in Illinois. The reduction sale will take place at Lindenwood Farm in Sheffield, Ill., on July 6 at 10 a.m. local time and includes broodmares, weanlings, yearlings, and 2-year-olds. . . . Keeneland announced Thursday that it has named Thomas J. Thornbury associate director of sales, effective July 1. Thornbury, a former manager at Airdrie Stud, most recently operated The Oakland Agency, an equine insurance and bloodstock agency. . . . Delaware-based Thoroughbred Charities of America has given $20,000 to an emergency fund established by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders to support equine veterinary research, including ongoing studies of mare reproductive loss syndrome. To date, TCA has distributed $65,000 to MRLS-related research projects.