By Lenny Shulman, Deirdre B. Biles, Margaret Ransom, and David Schmitz
Published in the Aug. 2 issue of The Blood-Horse
In the wake of the disturbing news of Ferdinand's demise in Japan, letters and e-mails from fans expressing both regret and anger have flooded in-boxes. It is likely, however, that the legacy Ferdinand leaves by virtue of his unseemly death will rival his achievements on the racetrack. The death of Exceller in 1997 became the defining moment in the advent of Thoroughbred retirement farms throughout the United States to care for those horses who, in a thousand different ways, slip through the cracks when their primary career becomes yesterday's news. If there is to be a silver lining in the cloud of Ferdinand's death, it comes in the manner in which future business transactions will be written, and the heightened awareness that owners' responsibility no longer ceases when a horse is sold. Ignorance is no longer an option, and no one understands that better than the people who have done business selling horses to overseas interests. "I would include a clause in contracts from here on out to retain the right of first refusal when a buyer contemplates selling the horse," said Bill Farish of Lane's End Farm. Lane's End, in partnership with Bob and Beverly Lewis, sold Charismatic to the Japan Racing Association, and he now stands at the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders Association Stallion Station near Shizunai. "I don't think anyone's ever thought about this eventuality. Maybe we should have," Farish said. "But certainly there is surprise that this could happen in a case like Ferdinand's. As a rule the Japanese are awfully proud to have a (Kentucky) Derby (gr. I) winner or a Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner, a trophy-type horse like that. So it's surprising and disturbing this would happen. I think it will become standard now to include language in contracts to prevent it from happening." Farish said he anticipated talking with the Lewises in the hope of adding a clause to bring Charismatic back when his stallion days are over. "He's so young and just arrived there, but I do think we will address this considering he's a dual classic winner and has such a great following back here," Farish said. Veteran agent and retired trainer John Jacobs helped arrange the sale of dual classic winner Hansel to Hidaka Stallion Station in Japan. "That was the one time where I had a man who wanted an agreement," Jacobs said about Joe Allbritton, who raced champion Hansel. "He requested a clause that when Hansel got old and was retired, he would be notified and would pick up the tab of bringing the horse back to the United States. The Japanese understood the request and agreed to it. From now on, I'm asking the seller if he wants some type of agreement of that kind." Ric Waldman, a consultant for Overbrook Farm who helped put together deals that sent champion Boston Harbor and dual classic winner Tabasco Cat to Japan, expressed shock over Ferdinand's demise. "I couldn't believe it," Waldman said. "I understand there are space limitations in Japan, but I would have thought they could have come up with a better solution. "If the present owners are willing to let the horses come back to us when they no longer want them, we will bring them back to Overbrook at our expense. As for the future, we will attempt to make provisions in the contracts for horses sold to Japan that they be returned." Rollin Baugh has been involved in brokering numerous deals to sell horses such as Forty Niner, Chief Bearhart, Captain Steve, and Charismatic to Japan. He expressed bewilderment that no effort was made to find a home for Ferdinand back in the United States. "It was such a solvable situation," he noted. "Any number of us could have gotten that phone call and done something instantly. I've had three people tell me they would have personally funded his return, not as a stallion, but just to bring him back for what he was, a great champion. What a great story it would have been to bring him to the Kentucky Horse Park. What more ideal combination could you have? We could have raised the money before lunch to pension him. "I'm still hoping there is some justification for what happened beyond loss of economic value. Perhaps infirmities contributed sufficiently so that traveling was not an option. Maybe there is some glimpse of that in this." Baugh warned against laying too much blame on Japanese interests. "I don't think slaughter happens there to a greater extent than in other parts of the world," he said. "We're all trying to reduce it. There's a bill in Washington now, and pressure from many directions. Some have made this into a cultural attack on Japan, but that's no better than knowing someone in Central Kentucky who might have killed a horse and saying that all people in Central Kentucky are horse-killers. That's a big stretch. I think it's awfully hard to make a value judgment that we shouldn't be selling horses to some countries. People in foreign nations are some of the greatest horsemen and most compassionate people. There are many responsible people around the world. There are irresponsible people who do the wrong thing by animals in this country. It has to be kept in perspective." Trainer Bob Baffert said he has attempted to have an agent look into buying back 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness (gr. I) winner War Emblem, who was sold to Shadai Stallion Station last year. War Emblem displayed a lack of interest in covering mares, and is now in the hands of insurance companies that paid off a multi-million-dollar claim. "They haven't called back yet, so I don't know where he is or what's going on with him," noted Baffert. "He retired sound, so he could go back in training, or be turned out. That Ferdinand deal is really bad." Mike Pegram, whose Captain Steve was sold to Japan, called what happened to Ferdinand "an owner's worst nightmare." As a young stallion, Captain Steve is likely in no immediate peril, but Pegram said that "after three years, you usually know if you have a successful stallion or not," and vowed to monitor the situation closely at that point. "Ferdinand's legacy is going to be a great benefit to the horses left behind," said Baugh. "People should be worried not only about the heroes, but about every horse. They're all essentially equal."