Top stallion Norquestor is put down with bad leg

Death of Murrays' sire is a blow to breeders

January 22, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Norquestor, one of Maryland's top thoroughbred stallions, was euthanized Tuesday after complications from leg surgery led to laminitis, the ailment that killed Secretariat.

For Audrey and Allen Murray, owners of Murmur Farm in Harford County, the death of the 13-year-old sire was a cruel blow. Their top stallion, Norquestor stood on the brink of widespread commercial success, ready to reward the Murrays for a decade of work and investment building his stud career.

For Maryland, the death was a blow to the breeding industry. Last year, Norquestor ranked second in wins by progeny (82, behind Allen's Prospect's 108) and third in earnings by progeny ($2.5 million, behind Polish Number's $3.5 million and Allen's Prospect's $3 million).

"It hurts Maryland," said Mike Pons, a manager of Country Life Farm and treasurer of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "It hurts everybody when you lose a marquee horse. It's one more reason to ship your mare out of state to breed."

Allen Murray, vice president of the breeders association, said trouble began in late October when Norquestor returned from the field with a sore left foreleg. Veterinarians diagnosed a pulled suspensory ligament.

In early November, Norquestor's leg swelled to the knee. The Murrays sent him to the New Bolton Center, a large-animal hospital in Kennett Square, Pa. Doctors there discovered an infection in the fetlock joint, which led to surgery to remove part of the sesamoid bone and a second surgery to fuse the ankle, Murray said.

"But horses can't stand on three legs," Murray said.

Despite support from a sling, Norquestor's favoring his left foreleg led to laminitis in his right front foot. Laminitis is an inflammation of a portion of the hoof. It became so severe that Norquestor had to be put down.

"It's one of the leading killers of horses," Murray said, "broken legs, laminitis and colic."

The Murrays bought Norquestor for $600,000 in 1990 when he was still racing. A son of Conquistador Cielo and Linda North, Norquestor won nine of 18 races, including the Grade I Pegasus Handicap. In the spring of 1991, he began his second career at the Murrays' farm in Darlington.

Owned by a 40-share syndicate (the Murrays owned 15 of the shares), Norquestor proved a successful sire from the start. His offspring included the stakes-winning Chip, Norstep, Banquest and Big Ego. This past year was his best.

"Norquestor was just ready to break through," Pons said. "He was on the verge of commercial success where his babies would start demanding the big prices they deserve at the sales.

"This has got to be a stunning blow to the Murrays. Everybody holds them in very high regard. It's like a torpedo in the hull of the ship when you lose your star."

Allen Murray said this was the year the farm, which stands other stallions, would have begun profiting from Norquestor's success.

"We were getting calls every day from people interested in breeding to him," Murray said. "We could have booked, easily, 100 mares for him. His popularity was phenomenal."

Norquestor's stud fee was a bargain $5,000 compared to other top Maryland stallions. His loss means the Murrays must find two replacement stallions -- the other for Deerhound, whom they sold in 1997 when that sire's Countess Diana became the nation's top 2-year-old filly.

"Norquestor will be sorely missed by everyone on the farm, and more than for just the financial loss," Murray said. "He was a very nice horse to handle, a nice horse to be around. He was always willing, just a happy horse."

The Murrays considered bringing him home to bury or conducting some sort of service or memorial.

"But we decided against it," Murray said. "It's just too sad."

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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