04/10/2003 12:00AM

Toussaud reigns over royal brood

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Toussaud is the favorite to be named 2003's Broodmare of the Year in Kentucky, and it is easy to see why. Just 14 years old, the mare, a resident of Juddmonte Farms, is the dam of 2003 Kentucky Derby hopeful Empire Maker. But Empire Maker, favored for Saturday's Wood Memorial, is just the latest in a distinguished line of runners. Toussaud already is the dam of four other graded stakes winners: Grade 1 winners Chester House, Honest Lady, and Chiselling, and Grade 2 winner Decarchy.

Toussaud, an El Gran Senor mare, was an outstanding, if quirky, racehorse. One of the best turf mares of her generation, she won four stakes, most notably the Grade 1 Gamely in 1993. But she also was known for eccentricities like stopping suddenly in the middle of her training gallops and refusing to move.

Toussaud is still odd sometimes, said Garrett O'Rourke, who oversees day-to-day operations at Juddmonte's Kentucky breeding farm. Sometimes she refuses to use one of her two stall doors, requiring her handler to take her to the second door instead.

"But she's the sweetest mare to be around," O'Rourke said. "She's like an eccentric person. If she were a human, she'd be an artist, wear weird clothes, and be a bit different. But she's as sweet as pie."

Toussaud's produce record is nothing short of astounding, given her relative youth. It is even more surprising considering that she has had to battle the hoof disease laminitis and a bout of serious colic during her breeding career. She developed laminitis after producing her first foal, millionaire Chester House. Shortly after Empire Maker was born in 2000, Toussaud needed colic surgery to correct an impaction. That problem prompted Juddmonte to give Toussaud a year off from breeding.

"That is the only year she didn't produce a foal," O'Rourke said. "That year off did her a lot of good, and, touch wood, she's doing well now."

Toussaud's most recent foals include a Seeking the Gold yearling filly and a Kingmambo filly foal born this year. Toussaud is booked to A. P. Indy this year.

Juddmonte has made some special accommodations for its jewel of a mare. Toussaud lives in a small barn with several other mares. But, unlike the others, she has a double-sized stall and a companion goat.

"The beauty of the goat is that it's developed into an early warning signal when the mare isn't feeling well," O'Rourke said. "She starts nipping at the goat then, almost like she's cranky and wants the goat to call the vet."

Toussaud's stall also has rubber flooring under its straw bedding and a heating and air-conditioning option for extreme weather, and it opens directly into her own paddock. Because of the fragility of her feet, Toussaud doesn't gallop on her own but is grazed on a lead shank in her paddock every day. She does get to roam freely in another, smaller pen carpeted with soft wood chips. And she has a team of veterinarians who monitor her closely. One vet, Dr. Robert Hunt, visits once a week to check her feet.

"But we don't go overboard about it," O'Rourke said of the special treatment. "We treat her like a horse. We try to keep her routine as close to a normal horse's routine as is feasible, but she's not entirely a normal horse. She's the queen. Long live the queen!"

University downplays weather

Recent warm weather alternating with cold spells has put central Kentucky's Thoroughbred breeders on alert for mare reproductive loss syndrome. But University of Kentucky researchers say there is no reason to panic over the effect spring weather might have on pastures. A recent bulletin from the university noted, "Frost events this spring should have little impact on cool-season grass or clover composition and therefore pose no significant forage concern for pregnant mares. The pasture monitoring program in 2002 found little to no change in mineral content or mycotoxin content resulting from frosts."

The bulletin, produced by Jimmy Hening, a UK forage specialist, acknowledged that white clover can produce slightly elevated levels of naturally occurring cyanide during frosts, but added that "cyanide was proven unrelated to MRLS by UK research."

Meanwhile, the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Lexington has reported a downward trend in equine abortions this year compared with last. From January through the first week of April 2003, the number of equine abortions sent to the lab for diagnosis was 348, down from last year's 430.