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Written by J. Drake

Ferdinand's story is one that should never be forgotten. It all started in 1983 when the chestnut stallion was born in Kentucky. Bred by the Keck family and sired by the great Nijinsky, Fardinand was to become a legend of his own. As a three year old, he went on the win the 1986 Kentucky Derby. The following year he also went on to take the 1987 Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year title with a dramatic win in the Breeders' Cup Classic over the great Alysheba.

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 his jockey, Bill Shoemaker.

Although Ferdinand's feats on the track were good enough for the record books, it wasn't until later in his life that Ferdinand's story really got interesting. In 1989, he was retired to stud at Claiborne Farm. Initially, his stud fee was set at $30,000 per live foal. However, after having achieved very little success as a stallion from his first few crops of runners, Ferdinand was sold to Japan's JS Company in the Fall of 1994. This was during a time when the Japanese breeding farms were trying to pursue American and European breeding stock.

While in Japan, Ferdinand saw six years of breeding seasons at Arrow Stud which was located on the northern island of Hokkaido. He was, at first, quite popular with the local Thoroughbred breeders from which he saw 77 mares in his first year standing at stud. By the time of his final year here, Ferdinand was only seeing just ten mares. At this point, his owners decided to get rid of him as he was not bringing in the attention they desired.

Efforts were made by the farm to place Ferdinand in a local riding club but these attempts failed. On February 3, 2001, Ferdinand found himself in the hands of a horse dealer named Yoshikazu Watanabe who worked out of Monbetsu, Japan. At this point, no effort was made to contact Ferdinand's connections in the United States (the Keck Family or Claiborne Farm).

Mystery surrounded what had become of Ferdinand after this exchange of hands and it wasn't until a reporter looking for answers uncovered some chilling information that word got out about his fate. When a member of the Keck family wanted to inquire as to his whereabouts so as to try to bring him back home to the United States, Reporter Barbara Bayer from The Blood-Horse attempted to find out where he was. When Bayer was first looking for information on Ferdinand, she was told that "he was given to a friend." Later this was turned into "he was gelded and I think he's at a riding club far away from here." Although they claimed he was gelded at this point, records showed that Ferdinand was bred to six mares in 2001 and an additional two in 2002. He was also spotted by a former handler from Arrow Stud at Goshima Farm near Niikappu. He was now also 19 years of age.

When Bayer told Watanabe that she wanted to see Ferdinand in person, the story changed yet again. This time she was told "Actually, he isn't around anymore" and that "He was disposed of late last year." Records showed that Ferdinand's registration in Japan had been annulled on Spetember 1, 2002.

In the article Bayer wrote for The Blood-Horse, she stated that "In Japan, the term 'disposed of' is used to mean slaughtered." She went on to say that "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. 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."

Dell Hancock, whose family now operates Claiborne Farm, upon hearing of Ferdinand's fate, stated that "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 have this happen to a Derby winner is just terrible."

After news of Ferdinand's death reached the United States, it began a chain of events. A new program named in his honor, the Ferdinand Fee, was set up to help fund keeping old racehorses alive in the Summer of 2006. This was an optional donation program set up by the New York Owners and Breeders' Association, based in Saratoga Springs, New York to raise funds for retired race horses so that they would not be sold to slaughter. Additionally, some owners are now also including buy-back clauses within their stallion contracts so that the same fate that became of Ferdinand does not happen again. It was reported that stallions such as Silver Charm and Roses in May who were sent to Japen, had these clauses contained within their contracts.

Ferdinand Facts:
Sire: Nijinsky
Colour: Chestnut
Markings: a star and socks.
29 Starts, 8 Wins, 9 Places, 6 Shows
Career Earnings: $3,777,978