01/31/2002 12:00AM

John Henry doing well after colic surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - John Henry, a two-time Horse of the Year who rose from obscurity to become the world's richest Thoroughbred in the 1980's, is doing well after emergency colic surgery, according to the Kentucky Horse Park.

The 27-year-old gelding has remained at the Hagyard Davidson McGee clinic since the Jan. 25 surgery but may return to the park sometime this weekend.

John Henry, who retired with earnings of $6,591,860 as the world's richest racehorse, showed signs of colic early Jan. 25, when park staff member Tammy Siters found him lying down in his paddock at the park's Hall of Champions.

On the park vet's recommendation, staff rushed John Henry to Hagyard Davidson McGee, which is located directly across the road from the park entrance. At the clinic, surgeon Dr. Michael Spirito performed a two-hour surgery to remove about 10 inches of strangulated intestine, according to Hall of Champions director Cathy Roby.

"When he opened him up, Dr. Spirito found that John Henry had an internal hernia, which apparently is somewhat common in older horses," Roby said.

John Henry, known around the park simply as "John," has long been a favorite attraction for visitors. But the five-time champion, who was North America's Horse of the Year in 1981 and 1984, is as legendary for his unpleasant temperament as he is for his racing feats.

Roby said she believes his tough nature makes John Henry resilient.

"The anesthesiologist said his heart rate was very strong for any horse, let alone for a 27-year-old in a two-hour surgery," she said. "I don't know that another horse could have survived it, but John's tough."

And he's recuperating well. How do they know he's getting back to normal?

"He's back to biting people," Roby said. "That's the old John."

Cigar and a 'sweetie'

The Horse Park's other famous Thoroughbred residents, Cigar and Da Hoss, are doing well these days, according to Roby.

Twelve-year-old Cigar, Horse of the Year in 1995 and 1996, has never been gelded, despite his continuing infertility. The insurance company Assicurazioni Generali became Cigar's owner after Madeleine and Allen Paulson cashed in their policy on the horse's fertility, and Roby said the company has tested Cigar's fertility once a year. That process requires Cigar to ship to fertility specialist Dr. Phil McCarthy's Watercress Farm near Lexington for about a week for semen collection.

Ten-year-old Da Hoss, who won the Breeders' Cup Mile in 1996 and 1998, represents the Thoroughbred breed in the park's daily Parade of Breeds. A Gone West gelding, Da Hoss makes appearances at the Hall of Champions around Breeders' Cup time and is, according to Roby, "a sweetie."

Famous first foals

Foaling season has begun, and several famous runners have sired or produced their first offspring this month.

Fusaichi Pegasus, the 2000 Kentucky Derby winner who was retired in a record deal that is believed to have placed his value at $60 million, sired his first foal when Goodbye Heart (Tsunami Slew) produced a filly by him on Jan. 15. The Fusaichi Pegasus filly is a half-sister to graded stakes winner Commitisize and Grade 1-placed stakes winner Perfect Six. Robert Gentry bred the filly, who was born at Gentry Farm near Lexington.

Chester House, winner of the 2001 Arlington Million, got his first foal when the stakes winner Jibe produced a dark bay colt on Jan. 17. Jibe is a Danzig mare out of broodmare of the year Slightly Dangerous, who is the dam of multiple champion Warning and two other Group 1 winners, Commander in Chief and Yashmak. Bred by Juddmonte Farms, the colt was foaled at the operation's Lexington nursery.

Juddmonte manager Garrett O'Rourke says three other Chester House foals have been born since, including a Jan. 30 colt out of champion turf mare Wandesta.

And Mike Pegram's dual champion Silverbulletday produced her first foal, an A.P. Indy colt, on Jan. 30 at Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Lexington. Silverbulletday is booked to Storm Cat in 2002.