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Posted: 9/15/2004 11:44:00 PM ET

Half brother to Birdstone and Bird Town rescued from slaughter

Angel Acres Horse Haven photo
After receiving a letter alerting them that a gelding they bred who is a half brother to champion Bird Town and classic winner Birdstone had nearly been sent to slaughter, Marylou Whitney and her husband, John Hendrickson, are challenging Thoroughbred owners to take a more active role in the future lives of their horses.

The letter arrived recently from Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue in Glenville, Pennsylvania. Hendrickson contacted Jo Deibel of the organization over the past weekend and immediately agreed to reclaim the gelding, Cviano, who they had named in honor of Whitney’s late husband, owner and breeder C. V. "Sonny" Whitney.

A winner of four of 49 starts who earned $73,883, Cviano had drifted down in the claiming ranks since he was taken from Marylou Whitney Stables for $25,000 in April 2001 at Keeneland Race Course. The seven-year-old bay had raced six times in 2004 without winning and was found in the "killer pen" set aside for horses going to slaughter at the New Holland Sales in New Holland, Pennsylvania.

"Thank God for these small organizations that are saving lives," Hendrickson said on Wednesday while praising Deibel’s efforts. "Marylou and I both believe that we need to be responsible not just for their births and racing careers but also for their retirements.

"It did not matter that he was a half brother to Bird Town and Birdstone, other than it made for a more salacious story," he added. "This was a horse we bred and we loved. We love all our horses."

Whitney and Hendrickson paid Angel Acres $2,500 to adopt Cviano, who was scheduled to be shipped to their farm in Lexington on Wednesday. Instead of being slaughtered, the bay gelding by Rubiano will fulfill a dream of 11-year-old Allie Redmon, the daughter of the couple’s farm manager, Jouett Redmon, and become her riding horse.

Hendrickson said he and Whitney have decided they will offer double the amount of money agents receive for horses sent to slaughter on any runners they have bred that are found in jeopardy. They suggested that other owners and breeders also take action on behalf of horses they have owned who later "fall through the cracks."

"This is about lives we created," said Hendrickson, who also advocates the passage of pending federal legislation that would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. "We’re responsible for them, and this makes all of us owners look bad."

Deibel said she was driving down a Pennsylvania road when Hendrickson called her cell phone.

"He said, ‘My name is John Hendrickson and I’m Marylou Whitney’s husband.’ I don’t remember much else," said Deibel, recalling her surprise. "I was just shocked that they would care enough to actually call me."

A colleague who works with Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue spotted Cviano in the New Holland "kill pen" on August 23 and called Deibel, who agreed to pay $325 to save the gelding, who she described as a kind and gentle horse.

Produced by the stakes-placed Storm Bird mare Dear Birdie, Cviano is a half brother to eight other winners, including 2003 champion three-year-old filly and Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Bird Town and ’04 Belmont (G1) and Travers (G1) Stakes winner Birdstone.

Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue focuses on saving Thoroughbreds who can no longer race and on finding them suitable homes and new careers. While Cviano, who last raced on March 26 for owner and trainer Jose Martinez at Penn National Race Course, had pulled a suspensory ligament at some point, he is sound for riding, Deibel said.

Martinez, who currently ranks fourth in the trainer standings at Penn National, could not be reached for comment.—Michele MacDonald

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