06/08/2006 11:00PM

Precisionist leaves home for cooler clime

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A van left Ocala, Fla., this past Tuesday with Lexington, Ky., as its destination. In the van was one of Florida's all-time great racehorses, the 25-year-old Precisionist. His new home will be at the facilities sponsored by Old Friends Equine. The home he left was the residence of the veterinarian Siobhan P. Ellison. He had been put in her care by the late Fred W. Hooper in 1996.

"Much of my research deals with equine reproduction," said Ellison. "When Precisionist was found to have fertility problems, Mr. Hooper sent him to me to see what could be done for him."

Precisionist, it turned out, was not completely infertile, and sired a handful of live foals. After a few years, though, the attempt to breed him was abandoned, and Precisionist, the 1985 Eclipse champion sprinter, became a pensioner.

"He did not take kindly to his new environment," said Ellison. At first, she said, he would run the fences and get stirred up. Sensing that Precisionist was lonely and needed a companion, Mary Margaret, a 20-year-old mule, was given the role of befriending him. In no time at all, said Ellison, their friendship was established, and the two were buddies until Precisionist's Tuesday departure.

"The heat gets to Precisionist," Ellison explained. "Every year it was getting tougher and tougher to keep him comfortable. He's in very good shape, but, as I say, the heat was getting to him."

Mary Margaret did not make the trip. She is now 30, and Ellison was concerned that she might be too old for the journey.

"If Precisionist starts to pine for his companion," she said, "then, of course, we'll look into shipping Mary Margaret to him."

Ellison, a research veterinarian with close ties to the University of Florida, works out of a lab on her small farm. Among many pursuits, she is working on a vaccine to cure equine protozoal meningitis, known as EPM.

The British-born Ellison breeds and races horses with longtime partner Bill Killeen. Unlike the majority of local breeders who patronize the sales, the Ellison-Killeen partnership rarely sells anything.

"Unless we get a ridiculous offer," she said. "Then we might."

The partnership rarely buys stable replacements, preferring to develop their homebreds. Last summer, however, they had three yearlings and felt they needed a fourth. So they went to the Ocala Breeders' Sale Co.'s August yearling sale and bought a Halo's Image colt named Honored Image for $5,500.

"He was overlooked," said Killeen. "He had a spot in one eye and what looked like a scar from a splint, and, yes, he was on the small side and not what you could call an overly attractive individual. But we've had racehorses on the small side before."

The partnership bought the colt from the three-yearling consignment of John Coursey, who was having a troubled sale. One of Coursey's yearlings failed a veterinary exam, and another was injured en route to the sale. If not for those incidents, he might well have taken Honored Image home as a buy-back.

Honored Image made his debut at Calder on May 8 in maiden special company and won the 4 1/2-furlong race by better than seven lengths, earning a solid Beyer Speed Figure of 64. On June 6, he went after his first-condition race at Calder, rallied from 10 to 11 lengths off the pace, and won in hand.

"We're going to have fun with this horse," said Ellison, a sentiment echoed by Killeen. A couple of years back, she noted, they had a horse named Juggernaut who developed into a solid stakes winner. The partnership was offered $350,000 for him, and they turned it down. He is presently at the farm serving whatever mares come his way.

When asked what name the farm goes by, Ellison said without hesitation: "We call it home."