Saturday, February 1, 2003

Foal shouldn't be such a problem this year

The Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The mysterious outbreak that caused equine abortions in central Kentucky two years ago is not expected to loom as large over the industry this year, although the number of abortions so far is up from 2002, a researcher said.

Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome cost the central Kentucky thoroughbred industry an estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the foal crop in 2001 and led to the cancellation of this year's Keeneland July selected yearling sale.

"Our scouting makes it very clear the areawide outbreak of (Eastern tent caterpillars) is on the decline," University of Kentucky entomologist Daniel Potter said Friday. "We predict (the caterpillar) population will be much lower this year than in the past three years. It's very cyclical - it goes up for five or six years, then subsides. It's down, but there's still a need to keep your guard up."

Researchers have yet to find a link between the caterpillars and the deaths, but they remain convinced the insects are the source of the problem. The number of equine abortions reported to UK has increased to 134 in the first four weeks of the year, from 99 in the corresponding period last year.

UK officials presented their findings during a two-hour meeting organized by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation at Fasig-Tipton's sales pavilion. The event drew 150 farm managers, veterinarians and racing industry officials.

While the failure to identify a link between the caterpillars and MRLS remains a source of frustration for the industry, speakers at Friday's session insisted that the link remains plausible. They also outlined research into preventative measures.

"The causal agent of MRLS has not been identified, and that's priority one," said Potter, who conducted the briefing.

Potter did not detail UK's efforts to discover the link between the caterpillars and MRLS, apart from reiterating that the caterpillars are not transferring cyanide from cherry trees to mares. Despite that, Claiborne Farm assistant manager Gus Koch took comfort from the school's continuing efforts.

"I was glad to hear them say that the No. 1 effort is to find the causal agent," Koch said. "We won't feel safe until we know what's causing this."

There was much discussion on chopping down wild cherry trees as a way to deny the caterpillars their natural habitat.

But Potter and UK extension professor Lee Townsend pointed out that the caterpillars can also reside in apple, crab apple and purple-leaf plum trees. And the mobility of the caterpillars makes it possible for caterpillars to abandon one location for another if trees are removed. Once they defoliate the tree, they travel as far as 300 feet seeking a new food source.

"It's important to try and focus on the caterpillars when they are in the tree and in your control," Townsend said.

Adrian Regan, farm manager at Crescent Hill Farm in Versailles, said the decorative cherry trees remain a welcome sight at farms throughout the region and are worth preserving.

"If they could come up with a solution apart from cutting down the cherry trees," Regan said, "that would be great for those of us who don't want to cut down the cherry trees."

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Sports this weekend on TV, radio

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Prep schedules