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An Uncertain Environment Ferdinand's death shows why thoroughbred activists fear for horses abroad


The news that 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand likely met his
doom in a Japanese slaughterhouse shocked the U.S. racing
industry, but it didn't come as a surprise to everyone. Kim Zito,
the wife of trainer Nick Zito, recently joined an effort to buy
back several American stallions from Turkey, including Strike the
Gold and Sea Hero, the Derby winners in '91 and '93,
respectively. "I'm not aware of any thoroughbred retirement
facilities in Turkey," she says, "and when I think of what
happened in Japan, it makes me want to throw up."

Hundreds of top American thoroughbreds are standing stud
overseas, including Derby winners War Emblem ('02) and
Charismatic ('99), who are in Japan, and Alysheba ('87), who is
in Saudi Arabia. Grave concerns about the safety of horses abroad
surfaced in 1997, when 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Exceller
was slaughtered in Sweden. Exceller's death prompted Kentucky
breeders Arthur and Staci Hancock to go to Germany and buy back
underperforming sire Gato Del Sol, the '82 Derby winner and a
product of the couple's Stone Farm. (Gato now grazes there.)

Exceller's death also generated increased support for several
organizations dedicated to keeping memorable horses alive. The
most prominent group, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation,
raises close to $2 million a year in donations to place thousands
of former racehorses on farms throughout the country. Most of
them might otherwise have been among the 60,000 horses--including
thousands of thoroughbreds--killed each year for glue and pet

Racing's greatest horses are treated well in the U.S. Some, such
as Secretariat and Seattle Slew, even get ceremonious burials.
Old Friends, the fledgling group that Kim Zito works with, is
hoping to put Sea Hero and Strike the Gold on a farm with other
top thoroughbreds and attract tourists. Yet as long as foreign
breeders are paying, some top horses will continue to go
abroad--War Emblem, for example, was bought for $17 million last
year. Nick Zito is among the growing number who advocate
inserting a clause into sales contracts that would give U.S.
owners the right to buy back a stallion when his breeding days
are over. "It's like letting Babe Ruth die on the Bowery," he
says of Ferdinand. "We don't want to insult anyone's culture, but
we want them to know how important these horses are to
us." --Mark Beech

COLOR PHOTO: ED REINKE/AP (STRIKE THE GOLD) GOOD CARE Zito (below) hopes to shield horses like Strike the Gold from what befell Ferdinand (top).