Sale of Virginia Tech's yearling horses at the Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Sunday, Oct. 10, will give horse enthusiasts the opportunity to acquire some of the finest horses in the state.

Funds raised by the sale will support continued research to improve the horse industry. The sale of yearlings begins with inspections at 10 a.m. and the auction begins at 2 p.m.

"Our 2004 auction will feature yearlings registered with the Jockey Club and the Virginia Thoroughbred Breeders Association," said James Bowen, interim director of the Center. The yearlings have been bred and cared for as part of the research program at the Center.

Yearlings sold at previous sales have matured to show, hunt, race, and jump. This year's sale includes a granddaughter of Secretariat whose half siblings have won close to $450,000. Many of the yearlings in the sale were sired by Ball's Bluff, a stallion at the Center who was named Virginia's leading sprint sire based on earnings for 2004 with total earnings reaching more than $620,000. For example, recently Bluffie Slew, which was sold at a previous auction, a filly by Ball's Bluff out of Our Lady Slew, was first in the Brookmeade Stakes race at Colonial Downs.

"The Center has approximately 45 Thoroughbred broodmares who produce between 25 and 30 foals annually. The growing foals provide researchers an opportunity to study how nutrition affects metabolism and skeletal development," said W. Burton Staniar, assistant professor of equine nutrition.

The Middleburg Center's pasture-based equine nutrition research relates the care and welfare of the horse from conception through its older years to its interaction as a grazing animal with the land.

The research objectives are to develop pastures and pasture supplements that improve the reproductive efficiency of mares, optimize growth in the young horses, enhance athletic performance, and protect and improve the land and waters. In addition, research projects also are being conducted that utilize the horse as a model for insulin resistance and skeletal development in ways that may prove beneficial to human medicine.

The work views nutrition of the horse from the points of reproduction, growth, exercise physiology, and health, Staniar said. Research projects examine fluctuations in pasture carbohydrate concentrations, cartilage and bone development, the stress of weaning young animals, and changing energy sources for the horse.

There also is work on horses' health problems including the debilitating disease laminitis in which there is inflammation within the hoof that may lead to separation of the hoof wall from the coffin bone.

Another group of studies involves exercise physiology. These range from better understanding the role of antioxidants to improved electrolyte supplementation, with the objective of reducing fatigue and improving performance. The Center has a high-speed equine treadmill and uses a 50-mile endurance ride to test the horses for the research. Many community participants volunteer to ride the horses for the endurance ride to make it possible for the faculty and students to pursue the exercise research.

The annual yearling auction is not only an opportunity to purchase one of the Thoroughbreds raised at the Center but a chance to speak with Virginia Tech faculty and students about the latest in equine research.

Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech has grown to become among the largest universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, Virginia Tech's eight colleges are dedicated to putting knowledge to work through teaching, research, and outreach activities and to fulfilling its vision to be among the top research universities in the nation. At its 2,600-acre main campus located in Blacksburg and other campus centers in Northern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Roanoke, Virginia Tech enrolls more than 28,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries in 180 academic degree programs.