"Just when you think it can't get much worse, it got worse," said Boyd Browning, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Fasig-Tipton, on Feb. 5. Browning was discussing complications involving the pending sale of 89 horses repossessed by Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland from the Maryland mystery buyer, Bernice L. Givens Sykes, who signed tickets for nearly $700,000 for 134 horses at the Keeneland November and Fasig-Tipton Midlantic December mixed sale and then failed to pay for them.
Those horses were to be sold in Lexington during the initial session of Fasig-Tipton's Kentucky February mixed sale on Feb. 11-12, but reported cases of the contagious upper respiratory disease strangles among the yearlings in the group have forced the sale to be moved. The Sykes horses now will be sold at the Paris Stockyards (a non-equine auction house) in Paris, Ky., at 10 a.m on Feb. 13.
"We're going to conduct the sale, with the same upset prices ($500 for yearlings, $1,000 for broodmare prospects and horses of racing age)," Browning said. "After some serious evaluation, we decided we could not take the risk of bringing those horses (to the Fasig-Tipton grounds). The risk you run with strangles is that it can infiltrate an entire population. We're going to take as many precautions as possible, doing cultures and blood counts on the horses before the sale."
Browning said some of the horses repossessed by Keeneland have been sold privately, and that he expected others to be withdrawn from the sale after veterinary examination. A total of 89 of the Sykes horses originally were catalogued. Legal action is anticipated against Sykes, who listed a Maryland address when she applied for credit with the sale companies.
The horses are being consigned by Mary Anne Parris' Winning Ways Farm. The farm's owner said the disease was limited to the Sykes yearlings and not to broodmares or other horses on the farm.
Strangles, caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi, generally involves lymph nodes of the head region and can result in lethargy, loss of appetite, swelling and tenderness of the lymph nodes, nasal discharge, fever, and difficulty breathing. Horses showing signs of strangles should be isolated immediately.
The disease can be spread by direct contact with nasal secretions, pus from a draining abscess, contaminated items such as water buckets, shared halters, or by the clothes and hands of people in contact with the horses.