08/15/2008 12:00AM

Handled with care, Rush Bay survives

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For Maryland's newest stallion prospect, Rush Bay, the journey from the racetrack to the breeding shed has been "nothing short of miraculous," says Mark Basinger, manager of his family's Mueller Thoroughbred Stables, which bred and owns the 6-year-old stallion.

Rush Bay, a big, handsome bay son of turf champion Cozzene, will soon take up residence at Allen and Audrey Murray's Murmur Farm in Darlington, Md., where he will stand his first full season at stud in 2009 for $3,500 live foal. Just one year ago, that prospect seemed remote.

A multiple graded stakes winner of $742,846, Rush Bay sustained a catastrophic injury in his 5-year-old debut in May 2007 at his favorite track, Churchill Downs. A gritty runner who had been first or second in 7 of 8 starts on both dirt or turf at Churchill, Rush Bay had gained the lead in the stretch of a one-mile turf allowance, but uncharacteristically gave way and was nosed out at the wire.

Basinger, in attendance at the track that day, didn't see what came next. As Rush Bay galloped out and turned to come back, he fell. The horse had suffered a complete disruption of the suspensory apparatus in his left foreleg.

"It was all soft tissue damage," said Basinger. "Although there were no broken bones, we knew it was bad, but didn't know just how bad at first. But if there was a chance to save him, we would do it."

Jody and Michelle Huckabay of Elm Tree Farm in Paris, Ky., have a long association with Rush Bay, a son of the Deputy Minister mare Seoul. The Mueller Thoroughbred Stables, headed by Basinger's mother, Phoebe Mueller, board their mares year-round at the farm.

"We sent his dam out to be bred, foaled him, and raised him here," said Jody Huckabay.

The injury to Rush Bay had a profound effect on the Huckabays and their farm crew, as they would ultimately spend a year rehabilitating the injured horse.

Huckabay describes the injury: "Everything fell apart. He dislodged his sesamoids - they moved about two inches up his leg."

In order to stabilize the ankle, the pastern and ankle were fused, with approximately 27 screws and a plate. The operation was conducted at the Hagyard Davidson Surgery Center in Lexington, Ky., by surgeon Dwayne Rodgerson. Rush Bay spent nearly four months in recovery at Hagyard before being moved to Elm Tree.

Basinger and Huckabay credit much of Rush Bay's recovery to the horse himself.

"The reason he lived through the ordeal is that he is a very intelligent horse," said Huckabay.

"Everyone who has worked with him says how smart he is," said Basinger. "The horse has a lot of heart, and his will to live is incredible."

During the first months at Elm Tree, it would take about a half-hour to walk him from his stall to a small grass pen about 20 yards away.

"It took about 30 days for him to build up his stamina and confidence," Huckabay said. "Now he is jogging and cantering around a small paddock, and is turned out all night."

The Murrays' involvement with Rush Bay came through friends who are clients of the Huckabays. Wayne and Juanita Morris had seen Rush Bay at Elm Tree and admired him, and connected their friends from Maryland and Kentucky.

While Rush Bay was in competition - a graded stakes-placed juvenile on the dirt, he won Churchill Downs's Grade 3 Jefferson Cup and Woodbine's Grade 2 Nijinsky Stakes on the turf and finished a solid fourth to Red Rocks in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Turf - his owners fielded a number of offers to stand him at stud in other countries and around the U.S. Following the injury, additional factors had to be considered when it was decided where he should go to stud.

Audrey and Allen Murray had previous success with a severely injured stallion when they took in Root Boy in 1994. One of Maryland's top handicap horses in the mid-1990s, Root Boy sustained a devastating injury to his right foreleg in the 1993 Maryland Million Classic. He stood at Murmur Farm for 11 years before his death from an unrelated injury in November 2004.

The Murrays first saw Rush Bay in July 2007.

"He had a bad day that day," said Huckabay. "The Murrays weren't quite sure if he'd even survive."

Giving Rush Bay time, the Murrays re-evaluated the stallion prospect, who has since been test-bred to four mares, three of whom are in foal.

"He is a remarkable horse," said Huckabay. "We work with horses every day, but he is one of those who pull at your heartstrings."