07/02/2009 11:00PM

ID bank bringing heritage to life

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Jockey Club's decision earlier this year to make its tattoo identification service free - and, this week, the addition of its markings database information to those free ID services - has been a boon to retirement groups, horse rescuers, and average horse owners. With the ability to learn more about their horses' background, new owners can glean information about everything from old injuries to personality quirks. And identifying a beloved horse's pedigree might also help them track down and acquire other horses of similar breeding.

The move has unleashed what the Jockey Club's president, Alan Marzelli, called "pent-up demand." Since the organization announced it would drop the tattoo identification fee in April, it has received almost 16,000 tattoo identification queries. It's been an eye-opener for both the horse owners and Jockey Club staff, says the organization's customer service coordinator, Andrew Chesser.

"It's across a wide spectrum," Chesser, 24, said of the inquiries. "They're for horses purchased off the racetrack recently, horses that have been family pets for years but weren't purchased with their papers, and now the family wants to figure out their horse's history. I've had cases where horses have recently been rescued from bad situations. It runs the gamut. I've certainly gotten some heartwarming stories about horses that have turned into wonderful dressage horses or horses that, once they've identified the animal, have turned out to be pretty good racehorses, even stakes horses."

One of the very first identity inquiries Chesser dealt with turned out to be a New York-based runner he remembered from the days when he worked on a Thoroughbred farm there.

Filling in gaps in a horse's pedigree and racing career often means a lot to their new owners. Earlier this spring, Nicholette Sherbut of Collinsville, Ill., bought a 13-year-old bay gelding off Craigslist, then found out through the Jockey Club's free service that he was a son of the 1992 Kentucky Derby winner, Lil E. Tee, and that he had run 119 times before retiring at age 12.

Named Shirley's Call, he's now at Sherbut's farm with a miniature donkey for a companion.

"He's totally sound, as far as I can discern," said Sherbut, 52, the daughter-in-law of the late Midwestern Thoroughbred breeder and owner Jim Sherbut. "And he is the sweetest, most easygoing horse. When I found out he had run 119 times, it was unbelievable. It made me happier than I even was before, because I have 100 acres and just want a horse to trail ride on, brush, and feed. It feels good to be able to give something back to them, and when you find out who they are, it's like, 'Yeah, he deserves this!' "

Christine Morrissey, 35, got her horse from a barn where she was a working student. She was told his name was Delicious, a name she didn't think was masculine enough for a good-sized bay gelding. Her ID research turned up some surprising news. His name is Lemoncello. He made just two starts at age 4, and sired a single unnamed colt of 2008 before being gelded. Morrissey has since discovered he also is a half-brother to two-time English champion Lucky Story and to Group 1 winner Dr Fong. He's now Morrissey's pleasure horse in Townsend, Mass.

"I was just glad to know his name," Morrissey said. "I've thought about trying to find his previous owner just to say, 'Hey, he's okay, he's safe.' "

Those are the kind of stories Chesser loves.

"People send me photographs of these horses, and a lot of times they have children on them or are taken at riding events," he said. "It's good to know that so many of these horses go on to have good, happy homes and new careers."

Breeding down in British Isles

Weatherbys, which handles Thoroughbred registrations in Great Britain and Ireland, released figures last week showing steep declines in breeding activity there in the recession.

Through May, new mare registrations fell 25 percent from last year in Britain and 31 percent in Ireland, according to figures Weatherbys provided at a Thoroughbred Breeders' Association seminar in Newmarket, England, and reported by Racing Post. Changes of ownership in broodmares also fell in the same time frame by 30 percent in Britain and 49 percent in Ireland. Mare imports slowed by 16 percent in Britain and 57 percent in Ireland; exports dropped by 20 percent and 43 percent, respectively.

Weatherbys Thoroughbred's director, Paul Greeves, projected that the British foal crop could shrink from 5,920 in 2008 to an estimated 5,650 this year and 5,200 in 2011. Ireland, where the slump has been more severe, could see its foal numbers drop from the 2008 figure of 12,419 to 10,300 by 2011, Greeves said.

U.S. winner for Saint Liam

Saint Liam, who had his first winner last month when Invest took a maiden race at Russia's Pyatigorsk racecourse, got his first U. S. winner on July 1.

The filly Draw a Blank, out of the Be My Guest mare Forget About It, beat Golden Guilder by a neck to win a five-furlong maiden at Presque Isle Downs.

Saint Liam, the 2005 Horse of the Year, died after injuring himself in a paddock accident. He is the sire of a single crop.