07/22/2004 11:00PM

Saving a diamond from the rough

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Lost and Found Horse Rescue, a 20-acre farm in Jacobus, Pa., is a modest salvage operation for horses. It is the last place you'd probably expect to find a Danzig colt.

But when the non-profit group's operator, Kelly Young, bought a handsome bay Thorough-bred for $250 at a recent New Holland, Pa., slaughter auction, she got a lot more than she bargained for. The horse turned out to be 3-year-old colt Media Empire, a Danzig half-brother to 2003 French Oaks winner Nebraska Tornado and a full brother to Group 2 winner Burning Sun.

Young spotted Media Empire before the auction, attracted by his good looks and youth.

"I thought for sure someone would buy him," she said. "He had a ton of presence, and he was so handsome. But when he went through the ring, they put him in the meat pen."

Media Empire had brought just $175 from a slaughter buyer. Another dealer at the auction encouraged Young to offer the buyer a profit and take Media Empire. At first, Young hesitated.

"We considered for a good 40 minutes about what to do, because we're just not set up for stallions, and we don't do breeding," Young said.

When Media Empire's original buyer sedated him to put him on the trailer, Young made up her mind. She paid $250 and took Media Empire, without having any idea what she'd acquired. Media Empire's illustrious pedigree became evident a few days later, when a friend got Media Empire's breed and name off his Coggins test, a standard vaccination record, and traced it through The Jockey Club.

Media Empire was bred in Kentucky by Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms. His dam, Media Nox, is a Grade 2 winner who has produced two group winners, and his sire is one of the outstanding stallions of the era.

But Media Empire had a back problem that made him slightly uncoordinated, as evidenced by a slight hitch in his right hind leg. Juddmonte never raced Media Empire and sold him to William Rickman Sr., owner of Delaware Park. Rickman has stood Juddmonte-bred horses in the Mid-Atlantic region before.

"We thought we'd make a stallion out of him," Rickman said. "But we couldn't get him to breed because of that back problem."

Rickman said he gave Media Empire to one of his employees, Bob Thompson, to take to a small breeder. "He was supposed to go to someone with five broodmares, and they were going to try with him," Rickman said.

But, according to Thompson, when he tried to deliver Media Empire at that farm, the owner told him she couldn't take the horse.

"I asked her what I was supposed to do with the horse, and she said, 'Take him to the sale,' " Thompson said. "I thought she'd talked about it with Mr. Rickman."

Thompson took Media Empire to New Holland, where he was listed as Media Empire's seller. But Thompson says he didn't know the sale would deliver Media Empire into the slaughter pen. "I knew they sold horses there, but I didn't know it was for slaughter," he said.

Rickman said he was shocked by this turn of events and insisted he never intended for Media Empire to end up in danger. He said Thursday that he plans to make "a fairly large donation" to Lost and Found Horse Rescue.

Now Kelly Young faces a quandary. The group's policy is to geld and retrain horses for adoption through their site at www.lfhr.org, not to sell or stand them at stud. "I've had so many calls telling us, 'Please don't geld him!' " she said. "We've had some pretty sizeable offers and estimates about what people think he's worth."

Young said her vet examined Media Empire on Wednesday and thinks Media Empire would be sound for breeding. In any case, Young said, Media Empire has already been valuable in making an important point.

"If even a horse of this caliber can end up at slaughter, then God forbid what happens to the rest of those horses," she said. "The slaughter issue doesn't discriminate by breed, sex, age, or value. People have this misconception that only old, sick horses end up at slaughter, and that's wrong."

Bank gets offer for Bonnie's Poker

The dispute over the pensioning of Bonnie's Poker took another twist this week. Kris and William Jakeman's Latitude 27, a commercial breeding operation in bankruptcy, planned to retire Bonnie's Poker from breeding. Bonnie's Poker has had a history of difficult foalings and, according to Kris Jakeman, is likely to die if bred again. But creditor National City Bank says Bonnie's Poker still has a $25,000 value as a broodmare.

This week, National City Bank filed a motion calling for abandonment of Bonnie's Poker, which effectively turned her over to the bank. According to the motion, the bank has received a $25,000 offer for Bonnie's Poker, pending a veterinary exam, from Gaines-Gentry Thorough-breds, a commercial breeder.

But the Jakemans' attorney, Lou Maracek, said he was optimistic the court will not require Bonnie's Poker to be turned over to the bank. For now, Bonnie's Poker remains in central Kentucky, as the Jakemans' property.