10/14/2004 11:00PM

Incitatus truly deserved a better fate

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TORONTO - The legacy of Barbadian hero-turned-Canadian stakes star Incitatus will live on through his handful of foals born the last two springs, but the manner in which the 11-year-old stallion died last month has left a black mark on the industry.

A multiple Grade 2 stakes winner of 19 races and $698,000, Incitatus collapsed of an apparent heart attack after running in an optional claiming race at Hastings on Sept. 25, his first race in almost two years.

Incitatus had stood two seasons at stud in British Columbia before being returned to training this summer.

For Jack and Pat Bennett, who stood Incitatus this spring at their 25-acre Road's End Farm in Abbotsford, the horse's death was their worst moment in 30 years of breeding Thoroughbreds.

"It's unbelievable that [Hastings] would allow him to start," said Jack Bennett, who brought the horse to his farm in July 2003. "There are a lot of people upset about this."

Incitatus, whose Canadian-bred sire Nosferatu stands in Barbados, retired in the fall of 2002 following eight seasons of racing in Barbados and Canada. He won the 1996 United Derby and 1997 Gold Cup at the Garrison Savannah course in Barbados for owner Blair Down before being transferred to trainer Ron Burke at Woodbine.

John Kom-Tong, who did not return messages for this story, assumed ownership of the horse in 1999. At the age of 6, Incitatus won the Grade 2 Connaught Cup. He took the Grade 2 King Edward Breeders' Cup Handicap the following season, defeating Canadian Horse of the Year Quiet Resolve.

Incitatus sired about half a dozen foals in 2003 at Eagle Ridge Farms in B.C. before arriving at Road's End.

"The owner was looking for a place to stand at stud," said Bennett. "I knew Incitatus was a grass horse and a graded stakes winner. But he didn't fit out here and wasn't breeding many mares. The owner was kind of stuck so I bailed him out."

Bennett said Incitatus bred six to eight mares this spring before the horse was returned to training.

"The owner told me, he was going to win the Premiers with him," Bennett said. "I told him that it would probably kill the horse."

Incitatus had his first recorded workout, a three-furlong move, at Hastings on July 20, had 10 more preps, and then was entered in a $35,000 optional claiming event at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt.

Saddled by trainer Jennifer Assoon, who declined comment, Incitatus trailed the field and was beaten more than 25 lengths.

Track superintendent Drew Levere was on the scene when Incitatus fell hard to the ground on the way back to the barn.

"I came around a corner and saw the horse lying on the ground," said Levere. "I tried to hold him down; he was thrashing about. It was sad."

Hastings racing secretary Lorne Mitchell, who was familiar with the horse and his accomplishments, didn't feel he could refuse the horse's entry into the race.

"There was so many things that went wrong with this thing, it's pathetic," said Mitchell. "Sure, I could have not accepted the entry, but it was a situation similar to Rick's Natural Star."

Rick's Natural Star was allowed to compete in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Woodbine in 1996 although it was obvious he didn't belong in the race.

The rules of racing in B.C., as governed by the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch of the provincial government, allow a horse to race through the age of 12 and then through 14 if the horse wins a race after turning 12.

Hastings does not have a race-day morning veterinarian check runners, something that Mitchell and many members of the industry hope will be changed.

"The racetrack has a responsibility to protect these horses, from the owner, the trainer, whoever," said Bennett.

Michael Brown, Hastings vice president and chief executive officer, who fielded many complaints about the incident from as far away as Barbados, agrees.

"We are going to investigate," said Brown. "It was an unfortunate incident and we want to ensure that it does not happen again."

The death of Incitatus made the Nation News daily paper in Barbados on Oct. 2.

"Everyone was really upset about it down here," said Chris Armond, the manager of racing operations and racing secretary for the Barbados Turf Club. "We were hoping he would eventually stand at stud here."

Armond said that a racing hall of fame is in the works for Barbadian heroes and he is certain Incitatus will be one of the first inductees.

"He was the best horse that this country ever bred - the only Barbadian-bred horse to win the Gold Cup. We were proud when he went to Canada and won those big races," he said.