Every time an American-raced horse is sold to stand at stud in another country, there are those who are up in arms. How could you do such a thing, they ask. How could you sell a horse like Forty Niner or Strike the Gold to stand in Japan or Turkey?
I've always figured the outcry comes from people who love horses but aren't involved enough in breeding and racing to understand the economics of the game. Some people simply cannot comprehend, or perhaps choose to ignore, that this is a business.
They need to know there is not a single person out there who breeds a horse who doesn't love horses. But they also need to know those same people have a responsibility to operate a business.
When someone is offering to purchase a stallion, what difference does it make if the offer is from Maryland or Malaysia? When a yearling is sold at public auction, why should it matter if the buyer is planning to race in Saratoga or Singapore?
After hearing the fate of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Ferdinand, I'm beginning to think it does matter.
Because of cultural differences, plus factors like a lack of land, it has been learned that very few stallions are pensioned in Japan. Instead, because they are no longer useful as breeding animals, they're disposed of.
The owners of Ferdinand made a decision to sell him to Japanese interests. Years later, a decision was made to dispose of him. Both were business decisions. It costs money to keep a pensioned stallion happy. And while a Kentucky Derby winner may be revered in the U.S., in Japan it means very little.
Before you get upset at that, consider this. If a winner of the Nippon Derby stood in the U.S., would that carry much weight?
That aside, it is a common practice in the U.S. to pension stallions. Were he not sold to Japan, where he continued to disappoint as a stallion, Ferdinand would have spent his final years romping in a field. Instead he ended up being needlessly slaughtered.
American owners and breeders selling horses to Japan either don't know this fate awaits many of the animals they sell, or don't care. Surely the former is the case.
There is a simple answer. It comes in the form of one paragraph. A few sentences any attorney could insert in a contract to purchase a horse. I'm no lawyer, but can offer this as an example: "Should the day ever come when this horse, named Ferdinand, by Nijinsky II and out of the Double Jay mare Banja Luka, a foal of 1983 carrying the official Jockey Club registration number 83015829, ever be offered for sale by the party of the second part, the party of the first part shall have the right of first refusal. The party of the first part shall pay all expenses connected with the return of said animal to the United States."
That's it. That is all that is needed.
Of course we all know any attorney worth his hourly rate would have to expand that paragraph to four or five pages, but that is OK with me.
There are no horses so beloved in the U.S. as the winners of the Kentucky Derby. It is our greatest race. Forget that you don't have to be a great horse to win the Derby. Nor a great sire. None of that matters in this context. What matters is that Derby winners--or any other horse--are not disposed of because they are failures at stud.
The bottom line here is giving an owner the right to repurchase, if he wants, an animal he cares about. Arthur and Staci Hancock brought Gato Del Sol back to their farm. It's a shame members of the Keck family that raced Ferdinand weren't asked if they wanted to save him.
The fact is a Keck family member wanted to bring Ferdinand home. Unfortunately, she was too late.
A simple paragraph would have made that possible. Ferdinand would have died a gracious death at Claiborne Farm, or been euthanized when his health deteriorated, not when his usefulness as a stallion ceased.
Owners and breeders should continue to sell horses to foreign countries. But they should also make arrangements to save the horse should the need arise.
Exceller. Ferdinand. Need there be others?Dan Liebman is executive editor of The Blood-Horse