07/24/2003 11:00PM

New role for failed sires


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Two Breeders' Cup Turf winners, 1993 Horse of the Year Kotashaan and 1994 Turf winner Tikkanen, have left Japan to be tried as National Hunt stallions in Ireland.

Harry Sweeney, owner of Japan's Paca Paca Farm, and the Kern Lillingston bloodstock agency brokered the deals to transfer the stallions, who had struggled to succeed as flat sires in Japan. News of their relocation came just days after reports that another major American runner, 1986 Kentucky Derby winner and 1987 Horse of the Year Ferdinand, was sent to a Japanese slaughterhouse after failing to make it as a sire.

"Both of those horses were going nowhere here, and we felt we should try to do something for them," Sweeney said of Tikkanen, 12, and Kotashaan, 15. Paca Paca Farm actively sought buyers for the horses when it became clear they were not succeeding in Japan.

Ferdinand saga continues

In a development related to Ferdinand's death, a source close to Arrow Stud - the farm that initially stood Ferdinand - said Friday that the company was considering publishing a letter of explanation regarding its role in the stallion's career. The source said that the letter would seek to clarify that Ferdinand had left Arrow Stud two years before his reported death in 2002 and that the farm was unaware of and shocked by news of his demise.

According to a report in the trade magazine The Blood-Horse, Ferdinand passed through several hands after leaving Arrow Stud and eventually was "disposed of" in September 2002.

Sweeney said that he would like to see what he called "a better network" of horsemen in America and Japan to help keep track of horses whose breeding careers are nearing an end in Japan, and he offered to help former owners find their stallions in Japan free of charge.

"I think it's a fair point that foreign stallions coming to Japan don't have an equal following or fan base as the Japanese horses do here," Sweeney said. "But, if there was a Japanese Derby winner in the States, the same thing probably would also be true. Who would even know that it was a Japanese Derby winner or care?

I could equally as well envisage something like this happening to a Japanese Derby winner in the States."

Sweeney said that Ferdinand's death had less to do with Japanese culture than with the practical difficulties that any racing country faces in finding homes for retired horses.

"Generally speaking, people care for their horses," he said. "This isn't a culture that people just discard them as commodities. But this country produces 10,000 horses a year, and clearly there is a problem with how to retire those horses.

"People here generally are very, very loyal to horses," he added. "Northern Taste, for example, was a champion sire in Japan, and he was retired for many years at Shadai. And many, many stallions, if they didn't make it at stud, would probably end up as teasers."

But Sweeney acknowledged that the slaughter issue is a serious one.

"I do agree that some of these stallions can end up friendless here at the end of the day," he said. "Paca Paca would certainly locate those horses for people for free, and we'd be happy to advise people on where they are and how they're doing so that they can bring them back if they want to."

Old Friends negotiates with Turkey

Meanwhile, two other Derby winners, 1991 victor Strike the Gold and 1993 winner Sea Hero, are still standing in Turkey. Old Friends, an organization that proposes to build a farm for pensioned stallions in Midway, Ky., is negotiating with the Turkish Jockey Club to insert a contractual clause that would require them to sell the sires back to Old Friends once their Turkish careers are over.

"We got verification that they are both in Turkey, still standing at stud, and doing well," said Old Friends president Michael Blowen.

At its first fundraiser Wednesday night, Old Friends raised several thousand dollars and received pledges of pro bono work from architect Rex Cecil and from at least one horse-transport pilot, who offered to help bring foreign-based stallions to Midway to retire. Blowen said that the farm plans to erect memorials to Hall of Famer Exceller, who died in a Swedish slaughterhouse, and to Ferdinand.

Secretariat's birthplace preserved

The Virginia State Fair/Atlantic Rural Exposition has purchased 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat's birthplace, Meadow Stud, in Caroline County, Va.

In announcing the purchase this week, the group pledged that "the site will not be sold into small lots for future residential development, thus keeping the birthplace of Secretariat intact for future generations."

The farm could become the site of Virginia's State Fair, which Atlantic Rural Exposition operates. Atlantic Rural Exposition currently holds the fair at Richmond International Raceway, which it sold in 1999. The company can use that site until 2006.