05/20/2001 11:00PM

More evidence points to fungus in deaths


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Preliminary results from the University of Kentucky's research into fetal loss syndrome haven't revealed a definitive cause for more than 1,100 abortions in broodmares since April 28, but they lend support to the researchers' theory that the problems may have started with fungus or mold in pastures.

Meanwhile, the Thoroughbred Times has reported that the European Federation of Thoroughbred Breeders' Associations has recommended that European countries discourage importation of United States horses until researchers identify the cause of the abortions. The recommendation is not a ban but is designed to advise European breeders to leave their mares in Kentucky until scientists determine for certain that the disease is not contagious.

Gluck Equine Research Center researchers reiterated Thursday that studies of aborted late-term foals suggest that the disease is not contagious. As of noon Friday, UK's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, which receives many of the aborted foals and fetuses for evaluation, reported that it had received 497 since April 28.

Gluck researchers provided some additional details of their research progress, though they have yet to identify the disease's source. In a statement issued Thursday, Gluck said some of more than 100 area grass samples tested positive for zearalenone, a fungus-produced toxin that causes reproductive, cardiac, and eye problems in horses and other animals.

Among the symptoms vets have seen in central Kentucky horses in the last three weeks are abortion in mares, conjunctivitis, and heart problems in younger stock.

But zearalenone and other mycotoxins are not the only possible culprits.

Researchers are considering other pasture toxins as well, including fungal endophytes, plant-produced estrogens, and other compounds that horses may have ingested while grazing.

The Gluck Center said that 70 percent of the pasture samples are in the testing process, and all of the samples will be "subject to further analysis." Researchers also are analyzing affected mares' urine, which already have revealed zearalenone, and blood samples.

Researchers also have tested some of the millions of tent caterpillars that have plagued central Kentucky's fruit trees this spring, and those tests have shown the caterpillars, too, contain high levels of zearalenone. But, the Gluck Center release said, "the significance of this finding is not clear."

Local farmers have suspected that the unusually large caterpillar population this spring may be related to the abortions, but other than the abnormal level of zearalenone, there has been little evidence reported so far to link caterpillars with the syndrome.

According to the Gluck statement, progress has been hampered by a lack of "reliable and rapid assays to identify a variety of suspect agents." But researchers have now developed those assays, which they hope will allow faster identification of mycotoxins and ergot alkaloids, another pasture toxin, in both pasture grass and horse urine.

Researchers are seeking samples of hay baled before May 5 and are requesting that farmers submit core samples or flakes from the middle of the bale for analysis at Dr. Tom Tobin's office, at UK's veterinary science department. For more information, call Dr. Steve Jackson at 859-873-9218.

Thunder Gulch stud fee ever-rising

Thunder Gulch, whose 2001 fee was advertised initially at $25,000, has gotten a fourth fee raise since October and will now stand for $75,000, Ashford Stud confirmed this week. Thunder Gulch is the sire of highly regarded 3-year-old Point Given and 2000 Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Spain. Thunder Gulch is the sire of three crops to race.

Thunder Gulch stood at Coolmore Stud's Ashford Stud near Versailles, Ky., for $25,000 in 2000 and was expected to start the season at the same price this year. But since the fee was announced last October, Coolmore boosted the price tag to $30,000, to $40,000, and then to $50,000 before the most recent rise.

Thunder Gulch was last year's leading North American second-crop sire, with more than $4.9 million in progeny earnings. Thunder Gulch currently tops the nation's third-crop sire list with 2001 progeny earnings of $2,184,130.

Thunder Gulch, the 3-year-old champion of 1995, is a 9-year-old son of Gulch and stakes-placed Line of Thunder, by Storm Bird.

* Two-time English champion and Shadwell stallion Elnadim will shuttle to Westbury Stud in Auckland, New Zealand, this fall. Elnadim (Danzig-Elle Seule, by Exclusive Native), who is standing his first season at Shadwell in Lexington for $15,000, will stand in New Zealand for $25,000, or about $10,650 in American currency.

* Frank Stronach's Adena Springs near Versailles, Ky., will host the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's 16th annual national awards dinner on Sept. 7. The band Blood, Sweat and Tears will perform at the event, which also will feature announcement of TOBA's Breeder and Owner of the Year awards.