01/24/2003 12:00AM

Slaughter remains industry concern

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - It has been almost two years since Fasig-Tipton and the Keeneland Association decided to set a $1,000 upset price, or minimum bid, at their horse sales as a way of discouraging slaughterhouse buyers from collecting cheap Thoroughbreds at their auctions. Both companies believe the change has made a difference.

Fasig-Tipton uses the $1,000 upset price for stock over 2 years of age and also has a $500 upset price for weanlings and yearlings. Keeneland's policy sets a $1,000 upset price on all stock, regardless of age.

So far, company officials say, the tactic appears to be keeping slaughter buyers away.

"Essentially, there's no possibility of rendering companies paying $1,000 for anything," Boyd Browning, chief operating officer of Fasig-Tipton, said. "They've quit coming."

"It's hard to monitor," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's sales director, "but I think it does discourage rendering companies. But you have to give full credit to consignors, too, because they have an interest in what happens to their horses. Some people, if they get no bid, will find another option and donate the horse to Midway College or something like that."

But slaughter remains an issue for the Thoroughbred business. The slaughterhouse is a legal avenue for owners who consider their horses to be unproductive or beyond salvage, and there are auctions around the country that do not have upset prices to put horses out of slaughter buyers' reach. Opponents of anti-slaughter measures say ending equine slaughter could lead to more abuse and neglect of unwanted horses.

And as the lower-level Thoroughbred market slumps and the number of horses failing to get even a single bid increases, some fear the $1,000 upset price won't prevent slaughter buyers from combing sale barns to pick up horses privately.

Russell said Keeneland attempts to prevent that, too, by refusing to give the industry necessary approval to private sales made on the grounds for less than $1,000 after a horse has gone through the ring without a bid or without meeting the upset price.

The anti-slaughter movement gained some momentum in December when the National Thoroughbred Racing Association issued a public statement supporting a ban on the slaughter of Thoroughbreds. That came after the NTRA board reviewed a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation white paper on the slaughter issue, the result of a $25,000 study. John Stuart, president of the TRF, said Friday that the group plans to release the paper to the public soon as part of a TRF public education and outreach campaign funded by a donation from the estate of Paul Mellon.

Stuart said the white paper examines some key questions about slaughter and the Thoroughbred industry, including what effects a slaughter ban could have on Thoroughbreds. The paper's release will likely bolster interest in the slaughter issue again in time for the new Congressional session, which Stuart predicts will include a new anti-slaughter bill.

Abortions being monitored

The advent of foaling season in Kentucky has prompted the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Lab in Lexington to begin reporting equine abortion rates, a figure of great concern to breeders on alert for occurrences of mare reproductive loss syndrome.

According to the most recent figures, the LDDC has received 94 aborted equine fetuses in the first three weeks of January, as compared to 77 for the same time frame last year. Though the rate is slightly higher than last year's, the laboratory has not reported any cases of MRLS among those abortions.

Goffs move draws ire

A decision by the Irish sales company Goffs to move its flagship yearling sales from October to Sept. 16-19 has sparked a harsh response from the Tattersalls auction house.

Tattersalls, which sells in England and Ireland, has issued a statement protesting the decision to put the Goffs Orby and Challenge yearling sale in the same week as the Tattersalls (Ireland) September yearling sale.

Goffs officials contend they were forced to make the change in response to a Tattersalls announcement this summer that it would shift the dates for its own major yearling sales in England, the Houghton and October sales, to dates that would cut it on the Goffs sales' traditional dates.