Aussie Farm Facing Insurance Liability Action

Eureka Stud in the northern Australian state of Queensland is facing a Supreme Court action seeking $23 million (Australian funds) in lost earnings by deceased stallion Brave Warrior.

The 7-year-old horse was euthanized more than four years ago at the Darling Downs stud property of Colin McAlpine and his son Scott. Brave Warrior was well named, winning three group 2 races and with a little more luck the son of Cossack Warrior and unraced Nijinsky mare Nothing to Do might have recorded at least one group I win -- rather than his four seconds. He still won just over a million before entering Eureka in 1996, his main breeding appeal outside his performance as a grandson of three-times Australian champion sire Bletchingly.

The suit against McAlpine and his son is being brought by Neville Bell and Dean Cowell, co-owners of the horse with McAlpine -- the shares held 20, eight, and 14 respectively. Cowell is a committeeman with the Queensland Turf Club and is also a part-owner of 1999 Australian Derby (Aust-I) winner Sky Heights. Bell is a former board member at the Brisbane Turf Club.

McAlpine has been president of the Queensland Breeders' Association for 17 years and held the same position as head of the Australian body for 14 years. Eureka was established by Andrew McAlpine in 1930s and is aknowledged as a leading nursery. It's biggest success was pensioned Nodouble son Semipalatinsk.

The import of the major players in this drama adds intrigue to a case already striking fear into many industry players given its backdrop of the sheer volatility in public liability insurance.

Within the past few weeks a nationwide strike by jockeys was averted when state governments agreed to subsidize part of the huge increases the hoops faced in public liability cover. Many other sections of the industry have been less fortunate, including horses breakers, veterinary surgeons, breeders, and trainers.

Brave Warrior smashed his head into a gate at the Cambooya property "with great force" on March 30, 1998. Vets gave up the fight to save the horse 10 days later. Newspaper reports of the time noted that the accident was "freakish." The insurance cover was for around $400,000.

Its significance grew as the 79 of his 117 foals from two crops to make it to the track from late 1999 started to show a return on their sire's $5,500 season cost. They are now 4 and 5 year-olds and to date 58 have won more than $6 million.

His best son, Show a Heart, displayed his share of bravery in collecting four group I races including the Caulfield Guineas. He ended his track career in a blaze of glory in defeating Falvelon in the Stradbroke Handicap on June 8 before entering Glenlogan Park this spring.

The litigants contend Eureka and the McAlpines breached their duty of care in that Brave Warrior put his head between the second and third bars of the gate, moved his head up. A steel handle on the gate pierced the horse's cranial cavity. The alleged breach of duty in the claim revolves around the lack of safety of the gate and a lack of supervision.

The action will be defended on all counts.

To say this case has the attention of the racing industry is putting it mildly. If the litigants were successful, it would farther shift the Thoroughbred breeding and racing landscape in terms of public liability insurance.