07/04/2001 11:00PM

Laminitis care proved worth the effort

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - In the Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont last Saturday, the Seattle Slew filly Fleet Renee confirmed the impression she had made defeating Golden Ballet in the Ashland Stakes. Fleet Renee's effort in the Mother Goose, winning by 5 1/2 lengths, showed that she is one of the very best fillies of this crop.

Doubtless the result brought pleasure to the owners of Seattle Slew, as the 27-year-old stallion has five major stakes winners this year, and to the personnel of Three Chimneys Farm, who nursed him through health problems last year and have seen him return successfully to breeding mares.

But the victory meant even more to owner-breeder Verne Winchell and to David Fiske, who manages Winchell's Oakwind Farm outside Lexington. Fleet Renee's successes have been welcome compensation for the time and money they have spent to save her dam, Darien Miss, from laminitis, a painful condition caused by inflammation and swelling inside a horse's hooves.

Fiske said, "Darien Miss came down with a horrible case of laminitis last winter. All four feet were involved, and she was a sinker." When all four feet are afflicted with laminitis, a horse literally does not have a leg to stand on. In the most severe cases of laminitis, such as Darien Miss's, the coffin bone loses its support within the hoof and sinks down and sometimes through the sole of the horse's hoof.

The obstacles to a recovery from laminitis this severe are immense, but Darien Miss "has improved a lot now," Fiske said, "although she still takes vacations over at Dr. Ric Redden's clinic in Versailles." While she is there, Redden, probably the foremost vet treating laminitis, can work on the mare's feet and help her get further down the road to recovery.

Darien Miss is very fortunate to have survived and be progressing back to health and soundness. Fiske said, "If it had been any other mare, we'd have had to put her down, but she gets around well now. She wanders and grazes.

"We even had to change the place where we turn her out because she was wandering off and not coming back. Now she's a lot more comfortable and pretty happy."

Giving the horse a good quality of life is the goal for any horseman treating an animal for laminitis, and that seems a good likelihood now for Darien Miss. "Her two hind feet are 100 percent now, and we hope to get her right to breed next season," Fiske said.

Having the opportunity to get a few more foals out of a mare of this caliber is a prospect that every breeder hopes for. Fleet Renee is the third and best stakes winner out of the 16-year-old Darien Miss, who has produced all her foals for Winchell. Oakwind acquired her in 1990 at the Keeneland November sale for $325,000, carrying her first foal on a cover to Forty Niner.

Fiske selected her for Winchell's breeding operation because of her race record, soundness, and good looks. As a racemare, Darien Miss won eight stakes and $600,409 in three seasons of racing. In addition, Fiske said, "She was an exceptionally good-looking mare who had quality and refinement. She stands about 15.2 or 15.3 hands and is very feminine, with an elegant head and neck."

The second foal that Darien Miss produced for Oakwind was Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk Stakes winner Future Quest, and her third was stakes winner Alzora, a full-sister to Fleet Renee.

Alzora fractured a leg in her stall after retiring to the farm and was euthanized. So Fleet Renee carried a lot of hopes and dreams from an early age.

Fiske said, "I always thought that Alzora took more after the mare and Fleet Renee more after Slew. She's perhaps a little plainer than Alzora or Darien Miss, but she was awful good-looking last Saturday.

"As she was growing up, Fleet Renee was always in the shadow of her older sister," Fiske recalled. "At the time, she was remarkable for not being remarkable. . . . And you always wondered, 'Could she be as good as her sister?' Well, after last Saturday, it looks like she's better."