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Death of a Derby Winner
The Blood-Horse Magazine Reports

1986 Kentucky Derby Winner Ferdinand Believed to Have Been Slaughtered in Japan

Lexington, Kentucky, July 21, 2003 ­ In an exclusive report in the July 26th issue of The Blood-Horse magazine, the Thoroughbred industry¹s premiere weekly news and information magazine, 1986 Kentucky Derby-winning horse Ferdinand is reported to have been apparently slaughtered in Japan. Upon retiring from racing, Ferdinand originally stood at stud in Kentucky but was later exported to Japan.

The following news item published on summarizes Barbara Bayer¹s exclusive feature in The Blood-Horse magazine:

Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner who went on to capture the following year¹s Horse of the Year title with a dramatic victory over 1987 Derby hero Alysheba in the Breeders¹ 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 Ferdinand¹s 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 in 1989. 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 Japan¹s 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 ³given to a friend.² When she asked for more information, she was told Ferdinand ³was gelded and I think he¹s at a riding club far away from here.² 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. ³Actually, he isn¹t around anymore,² she was told. ³He was disposed of late last year.² Ferdinand¹s registration in Japan was annulled Sept. 1, 2002, Bayer learned.

³In Japan, the term Œdisposed of¹ is used to mean slaughtered,² Bayer wrote in The Blood-Horse. ³No one can say for sure when and where Ferdinand met his end, but it would seem clear he met it in a slaughterhouse.²

³Unfortunately, to those well-versed in the realities beyond the glitter and glory of the racetrack, it comes as no surprise,² Bayer wrote. ³Ferdinand¹s 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 world¹s highest purses and astronomical betting revenues, Ferdinand¹s fate is not the exception. It is the rule.²

"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 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 Ferdinand¹s fate was Toshiharu Kaibazawa, who worked as a stallion groom at Arrow Stud during the horse¹s years there. He called the former champion ³the gentlest horse you could imagine. He¹d come over when I called to him in the pasture. And anyone could have led him with just a halter on him. Š He¹d come over to me and press his head up against me. He was so sweet.²

³I want to get angry about what happened to him,² Kaibazawa added. ³It¹s just heartless, too heartless.²

The Blood-Horse has been published by Blood-Horse Publications since 1916, an international publishing house for top Thoroughbred and general equine magazines, books, and videos. In addition, Blood-Horse Publications also publishes The Horse, a monthly equine health care magazine; the official Kentucky Derby and World Thoroughbred Championship/Breeders¹ Cup souvenir magazines; Auction Edge, and Keeneland magazine. Blood-Horse Publications also publishes books and videos under the Eclipse Press banner and operates Exclusively Equine, its e-commerce and mail-order catalogue division; and a family of leading Web sites including and


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