08/09/2002 11:00PM

Sunday Silence's life in jeopardy

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Sunday Silence, Japan's most influential sire and North America's 1989 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year, is in peril after developing laminitis.

The 16-year-old Halo horse has undergone three surgeries since late spring to treat a bacterial infection in a tendon in his right front leg. He began showing signs of laminitis early last week, and his condition has deteriorated, though he was still able to stand as of Saturday, according to a manager at Teruya Yoshida's Shadai Stallion Station.

Laminitis, a disease that disrupts blood flow to the hoof and can cause fatal complications, recently developed in Sunday Silence's left front leg. Laminitis is a common complication during prolonged illness or post-surgical recovery; it can be brought on in a healthy leg by the resulting stress of a horse shifting his weight off an injured leg.

"His condition is not positive," said the Shadai manager, who spoke through a translator and declined to be identified. "We've tried our best to treat him for the past three months. We've been very careful that he should not develop laminitis, and he had been responding to treatment. But we have discovered that he has developed laminitis in the left front foot, and now it is very difficult to get him right again."

Sunday Silence also is showing signs of stiffness in his hindquarters, which Shadai staff believe is related to his having shifted weight away from his front legs.

"We will have a meeting with the syndicate members that own Sunday Silence to discuss the future of the horse," the manager said. "But as far as I know right now, we are to continue to treat him."

Sunday Silence won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Breeders' Cup Classic, Super Derby, and Santa Anita Derby as part of his championship 3-year-old season. Retired in 1990, he shipped to his birthplace at Arthur and Staci Hancock's Stone Farm in Paris, Ky. Plans called for him to take up stud duties there, but his syndication went slowly. In September 1990, Stone Farm announced that Shadai founder Zenya Yoshida had purchased the colt for $10 million.

Sunday Silence has since dominated Japanese breeding, siring countless Japanese champions and leading the Japanese stallion rankings by progeny earnings every year since 1995.

Sunday Silence is out of the Understanding mare Wishing Well.