Ferdinand - "www.oldfriendsequine.org"
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Ferdinands Tragic Ending
Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner who went on to
capture the following year's Horse of the Year title with
a dramatic victory over 1987 Derby hero Alysheba in the
Breeders' Cup Classic, is dead. The Blood-Horse has learned
the big chestnut son of Nijinsky II died sometime in 2002,
most likely in a slaughterhouse in Japan, where his career
at stud was unsuccessful.
Reporter Barbara Bayer, as detailed in an exclusive story
in the July 26 issue of The Blood-Horse, attempted to learn
of Ferdinand's whereabouts after a member of the Howard
Keck family that owned and bred the horse inquired about
having him returned to the United States, where he began
his career at stud. As a racehorse, Ferdinand won eight
of 29 starts and earned $3,777,978, retiring as what was
then the fifth leading money winner of all time. His victory
in the Kentucky Derby gave trainer Charlie Whittingham his
first success in that classic, and it was the final career
Derby win for jockey Bill Shoemaker.
Ferdinand was retired to stud in 1989 at Claiborne Farm
near Paris, Ky., where he was foaled. His initial stud fee
was $30,000 live foal, but he achieved little success as
a stallion from his first few crops of runners.
Sold to Japan's JS Company in the fall of 1994 at a time
when Japanese breeding farms were aggressively pursuing
American and European breeding stock, Ferdinand spent six
breeding seasons at Arrow Stud on the northern island of
Hokkaido, from 1995-2000. Initially popular with local breeders
(he was mated to 77 mares his first year), Ferdinand was
bred to just 10 mares in his final year at Arrow, and his
owners opted to get rid of him.
After efforts by the farm staff to place Ferdinand with
a riding club failed, he passed into the hands of a Monbetsu,
Japan, horse dealer named Yoshikazu Watanabe and left the
farm Feb. 3, 2001. No attempt was made to contact either
the Keck family or Claiborne Farm.
Bayer at first was told by Watanabe that Ferdinand had
been "given to a friend." When she asked for more
information, she was told Ferdinand "was gelded and
I think he's at a riding club far away from here."
In fact, records showed Ferdinand was bred to six mares
in 2001 and then two in 2002. He spent a period of time
at Goshima Farm near Niikappu, where a former handler at
Arrow Stud had seen him.
Finally, when Bayer told Watanabe she wanted to see Ferdinand,
the story changed yet again. "Actually, he isn't around
anymore," she was told. "He was disposed of late
last year." Ferdinand's registration in Japan was annulled
Sept. 1, 2002, Bayer learned.
"In Japan, the term 'disposed of' is used to mean
slaughtered," Bayer wrote in The Blood-Horse. "No
one can say for sure when and where Ferdinand met his end,
but it would seem clear he met it in a slaughterhouse."
"Unfortunately, to those well-versed in the realities
beyond the glitter and glory of the racetrack, it comes
as no surprise," Bayer wrote. "Ferdinand's story
is the story of nearly every imported stallion in Japan
at that point in time when the figures no longer weigh in
his favor. In a country where racing is kept booming by
the world's highest purses and astronomical betting revenues,
Ferdinand's fate is not the exception. It is the rule."
"That's just disgusting," said Dell Hancock,
whose family operates Claiborne Farm, upon hearing the news
of Ferdinand's likely fate. "It's so sad, but there
is nothing anyone can do now except support John Hettinger's
efforts to stop the slaughter of Thoroughbreds in this country.
That wouldn't change anything in Japan...to have this happen
to a Derby winner is just terrible."
While the Japanese are among the societies that consume
horse meat, it is more likely a slaughtered Thoroughbred
would be used for pet food, since the meat consumed by humans
is a certain breed of horse raised specifically for that
purpose. The slaughter of no longer useful imported breeding
stock and many domestic Japanese Thoroughbreds is not uncommon.
Shortages of land and the high cost of maintaining a pensioned
horse are reasons slaughter is considered an alternate.
As in the U.S., where slaughter is also an option available
for horse owners, a number of organizations are attempting
to provide homes for retired and pensioned racehorses, stallions,
and mares. The Japan Racing Association funds one program
that currently benefits 90 horses.
Among the people Bayer met and spoke with while trying
to learn of Ferdinand's fate was Toshiharu Kaibazawa, who
worked as a stallion groom at Arrow Stud during the horse's
years there. He called the former champion "the gentlest
horse you could imagine. He'd come over when I called to
him in the pasture. And anyone could have led him with just
a halter on him. ... He'd come over to me and press his
head up against me. He was so sweet."
"I want to get angry about what happened to him,"
Kaibazawa added. "It's just heartless, too heartless."