07/30/2003 11:00PM

Shuttling of sires has risks, rewards

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Lexington said this week that it wouldn't shuttle its stallion Mutakddim to Argentina this year because the farm doesn't want to risk injuring a horse whose value is increasing.

Mutakddim is best known in this country as the sire of Grade 1 winner Lady Tak, and his Argentine progeny include Grade 1 winners Luna Real and Symbolic. Mutakddim isn't the only stallion staying off the shuttle circuit this year. Coolmore's Thunder Gulch is skipping his Australian season for "a season's rest" after seven consecutive trips Down Under.

Both cases point up the risk-reward calculation that stallion operations must consider when shuttling a horse. Shuttling is fairly common, but it's still risky, involving quarantine, transportation, and potential stress. The costs, about $10,000 to ship from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere, can be daunting. And dual-season work can cause libido problems.

Still, shuttling's rewards draw many stallions. This year, more than 70 foreign stallions, many of them from North America, will make the trek to Australia, and others will travel to South America. Shuttle stallions can increase a farm's income and gain international exposure, at least until they establish themselves in the American market. That has made shuttling a key part of the business plan at many farms.

Farms such as Hill 'n' Dale see the market potential in the Southern Hemisphere as a strong draw, especially for younger stallions.

"Mutakddim was unique in that, prior to his first season, he was more highly regarded in Argentina than he was in America," said John Sikura, the farm's owner. "He was bred to the premier mares at Haras la Quebrada, the leading breeding farm in Argentina."

In contrast, Mutakddim's first few American crops averaged just 35 foals. Shuttling the stallion made sense, both from an immediate economic sense and in terms of producing potential runners to make him famous. But when Mutakddim's popularity grew here, there was less incentive to shuttle him.

In considering whom to shuttle, stallion masters must look at temperament and hardiness as well as economics. And it helps to have a good Southern Hemisphere partner, said Doug Arnold, who shuttles Bernstein and Doneraile Court from his Buck Pond Farm.

"The key is, you can't breed too many mares," Arnold said, adding that he likes a stallion's Southern Hemisphere book to be fairly limited in order to keep the horse fresh for the northern season. He also tries to avoid "doubling" mares, or giving second covers for a single mare, to maintain the horses' libidos.

For horses who relish the travel, a southern sojourn can be a helpful marketing strategy. Not surprisingly, Sikura is sending another young stallion, Dance Brightly, to Haras la Quebrada this year.

"He's a fresh horse in the environment, and hopefully his second crop here will have done well enough by the time he gets back that he can stay here," Sikura said.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis on rise

Warm, rainy weather this spring and summer has contributed to a rise in cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis, especially in Florida. As of July 31, the state had seen 183 equine cases of EEE, up from just 27 last year.

"We experience a cyclical increase in EEE that has been traditional, usually on a seven- to 12-year cycle," said Florida state veterinarian Leroy Coffman. "That's one explanation: We're due. Also, the type of year we've had so far, with rainfall and warmth, is conducive to mosquitoes."

EEE is mosquito-borne and can also affect humans, causing death in about 50 percent of human cases. A Georgia man who died last month from the illness was the first human fatality from EEE this year.

There is a vaccine, and Florida veterinary authorities recommend that horses receive it every four months on the advice of their local veterinarians.

'Seabiscuit' star retires to horse park

I Two Step Too, a $2,000 claimer who played Seabiscuit in the recent movie, has retired to the Kentucky Horse Park, where he will be featured in the daily Parade of Breeds. His appearance in "Seabiscuit" has elevated him to a status he never achieved on the racetrack.

"I Two Step Too is a wonderful example of the value of every horse, regardless of their success in competition," said John Nicholson, the park's executive director. "This horse is going to bring a great deal of happiness to our visitors and help tell the magnificent story of Seabiscuit, which is good for the entire horse industry."

The issue of racehorse retirement was put back in the spotlight by recent reports about the fate of Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner and 1987 Horse of the Year. Despite his glorious record, Ferdinand reportedly died in a Japanese slaughterhouse last year. A study released this year by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation estimates that about 40,000 horses were slaughtered in North America in 2002. The fact that I Two Step Too will not meet a similar fate is a relief to Nicholson.

I Two Step Too will earn his keep, too: The park is selling $100 "shares" in him to benefit the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation.