12/12/2003 1:00AM

Horses 101 on curriculum


Three stallions are lending themselves to the cause of higher education at an agricultural college in Cobleskill, N.Y.

Expensive Decision, Mighty Magee, and A.J.'s Band stand stud at the State University of New York at Cobleskill and are used as part of the teaching program at the college, located about an hour's drive from Albany.

SUNY Cobleskill offers two- and four-year programs for students interested in horses. Students can graduate with an associate degree in Thoroughbred management and equine studies or a bachelor of technology degree in animal sciences with an equine concentration. Currently, 75 students are enrolled in the equine program, which was instituted 30 years ago.

Mighty Magee and A.J.'s Band are new to Cobleskill for the 2004 breeding season. Expensive Decision came to the college last year.

The stallions were donated by their owners. Expensive Decision and Mighty Magee are graded stakes winners and have each sired several crops of runners. A.J.'s Band, a New York-bred who was bought for $625,000 as a yearling at Saratoga in 1999, enters stud in 2004 after an undistinguished racing career. He stands for $1,000.

Expensive Decision, who previously stood at Highcliff Farm in Delanson, N.Y., has progeny earnings of $2.6 million and stands for $1,000. Mighty Magee, who stood at Waldorf Farm in Chatham, N.Y., before coming to Cobleskill, has progeny earnings topping $700,000. Mighty Magee's fee is $2,000.

Ray Whelihan, the chair of the animal science and agricultural business department and a professor since 1990 at SUNY Cobleskill, said the money collected on the stud fees is used for the equine program and the upkeep of the stabling facilities, which accommodates about 35 horses.

About a dozen Thoroughbred mares are part of the SUNY Cobleskill equine program, and any foals who are born at the college are sold at auction.

In addition to the live covers performed by the Cobleskill stallions, semen collected from Expensive Decision, Mighty Magee, and A.J.'s Band will be mailed to owners who wish to inseminate their performance mares. The Jockey Club does not allow artificial insemination in Thoroughbred racehorses, but it is permitted in other breeds. Whelihan said the process of retrieving the semen and preparing it for shipping is handled by the students.

Whelihan said it will be easy to attract business for live covers with Expensive Decision and Mighty Magee because they are established sires. On the other hand, A.J.'s Band, a son of Dixieland Band, might be more difficult of a sell, being a first-year sire.

"We accepted A.J.'s Band from a sport-horse standpoint," Whelihan said. "Obviously, he is a good-looking horse, but with young sires you need to start an advertising campaign with a lot of push. It would be too heady of an [expenditure] for us, so we will ship semen on him."

One of the profiles of a suitable stallion for the equine studies program is a horse with a good temperament.

"Expensive Decision is a nice horse to be around, and although we haven't bred Mighty Magee yet, he is also kind," Whelihan said. "That makes us feel good about the live-cover scenario. because students are doing everything, and a stallion is a catalyst for disaster. If stallions don't behave themselves, the faculty ends up breeding them and then, what's the point?"

The Thoroughbred industry is very supportive of Cobleskill's equine program. The New York Thoroughbred Breeders recently donated money for four student scholarships. The NYTB also opened the doors of its Saratoga Springs office on Saturdays during the fall for students to listen to guest lecturers.

Cobleskill also receives cooperation from trainers, who give students the opportunity to gain experience by working on the backstretch. For 10 weeks this fall, students from Cobleskill spent their mornings at Saratoga Race Course working in the barns of several of New York's leading trainers, including Bobby Frankel, Shug McGaughey, and Todd Pletcher.

When students enroll in the equine program, many of them aren't thinking about the racing industry as a source for employment after graduation. But Whelihan said that after getting a taste of racing and breeding through their studies, many graduates end up getting jobs with major Thoroughbred farms or working at the track.

"I'd say of 12 students, maybe six enter the program because they are interested in the racehorse industry," Whelihan said. "But once those other students get on the backstretch or a breeding farm, they want to stay there."

* Griffinite, a Grade 3 winner by Unbridled's Song out of Copius, enters stud in 2004 at Center Brook Farm in Climax, N.Y. Griffinite's stud fee will be $4,000, with the first 25 bookings at half-price.