Just more than a week after the father of Breeders’ Cup-winning trainer Maria Borell was arrested and charged with 43 counts of animal cruelty and the trainer herself was levied with the same charges in Mercer County, Kentucky, the 43 horses abandoned and neglected by the pair are improving every day, according Angie Cheak, who initially volunteered on her own to help the horses, but who is now managing the day-to-day care of the herd and volunteer staff.
The wherabouts of Maria Borell is unknown and she has not yet been arrested or turned herself in to face charges. Chuck Borell, who is a resident of New York, was bailed out of jail on $4,500 bond last Friday after 48 hours in custody and has left the state while he awaits arraignment before a judge on August 1.
After multiple reports published on USRacing.com and some much-needed attention from Fox Hill Farm’s Rick Porter and Victoria Keith, the horses received an outpouring of support from horse lovers around the country and the thoroughbred breeding community via donations of money, feed, supplies, veterinary care, blacksmith, dental and basic horse care supplies.
Horses now have food and bedding and water buckets and fans for the heat, as well as simple things like fly masks and ointments for minor cuts and scrapes.
The entire thoroughbred industry really stepped up and provided everything, no questions asked,” Cheak said. “Whatever the horses need or whatever we need we finally have access to. Strangers who just wanted to help donated to the GoFundMe and thanks to them we have been able to get everything we need. The outpouring of kindness is unbelievable. I don’t know what the future holds for any of these horses but I know they’ll be well cared for wherever they go thanks to those people.”
Last week, six of the horses in the worst shape, including Z Camelot and Silver Cliff, were transported to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Blackburn Facility outside Lexington for acute care. Another two — a mare and her yearling — joined them Thursday. Cheak said more needing acute care will follow in the near future.
“So many are doing really well,” Cheak said. “Several have gained a hundred pounds or more in just a week. (State veterinarian) Rusty Ford told me that Silver Cliff over at Blackburn put on 150 pounds in a week and I could not be more happy about that. Most of the ones still here on the farm are very thin, but they improve every day. It’s going to take some time for all of them; their immune systems have been compromised after months and even years not receiving proper care.
“Unfortunately some aren’t doing as well. They aren’t in any immediate danger, but after suffering so long it’s just taking their bodies a little longer to catch up to the feed and medicine. The one mare with the sarcoid growths is going to start some aggressive new treatments and, if in a week that doesn’t help, she’ll head to the clinic where they’ll likely remove them. Her sarcoids were bleeding, open sores when we got here and we’ve stopped that, but they’re not a whole lot better.
“We have a couple with EPM, too. A sweet 2-year-old I call “Possum” who is having a hard time. You get near him and he just wants to lean on you to hold him up. He was better at first, but now he’s kind of plateaued so if doesn’t improve soon he’ll go to Blackburn as well. And there’s a mare who is either a Mustang, a Lakota or maybe even a Paso Fino, her whole face droops and she has such a hard time eating. She’s being treated for EPM too, but she’s another struggling a little. The good news is that before it gets really bad they will be taken where they can get the best medical care.”
But even though there are a few that might need additional care, several others are thriving, Cheak said.
“So many are bright-eyed and happy again,” Cheak said. “Their eyes are sparkling again. They are interested in everything going on around them. They are loving the attention they’re getting from the volunteers. We’ve bathed just about all of them and pulled as many manes as we could. Some we needed to cut because they hadn’t been brushed or combed in years, but they look so much better. They are eating and drinking lots of water; we clean water troughs every day and it’s like they know we’re helping.
“The blacksmith is coming next week to start to do all their feet because the vets say they are finally stable enough to stand to have their feet done. And a dentist, who is also a vet, will be coming out. He’s donating his time, which is so amazing. And they need it badly. Most have never had their teeth done and have sharp edges and things going on there that, when fixed, will help them eat better. And if they haven’t been vaccinated already, they will be in the next week.
“The thoroughbred colts are starting to act like colts should, sassy and nippy and happy. They really have blossomed. It’s really great to see them feel so good for a change.”
One of Cheak’s favorite success stories in particular is the colt named Timothy James. The dark bay colt that Maria Borell once fundraised for to cover a colic surgery the colt had as a yearling, has gained at least 100 pounds and has become a volunteer favorite. When Cheak first arrived on the farm nearly 40 days ago, he was depressed and not at all the spunky personality he’s shown himself to be.
“He’s such a sweet horse, really,” Cheak said. “He loves the people and the company and he’s really doing so well. He comes to visit us when we go by his stall and he loves to be pet and scratched when, just a week ago, we couldn’t get him to interact much. He had an abscess (in a foot) the vet took care of and he’s on medication, but he’s just feeling so much better. He was always sweet when we worked with him, but it’s like he’s a different horse now.”
Cheak said some of the other issues the horses have been dealing with are chronic conjunctivitis, stomach issues, rain rot and matted manes and tales, just to name a few. Every day is an improvement for the most part, she said, and a vet has been present on the farm all day every day for more than a week working to establish individual treatment and feed plans. And all the mares on the farm were palpated and deemed to be not in foal. Soon, Cheak said, the vets will only need to visit three or four times a week to monitor care.
Additionally, the last of the blood draws for DNA testing for all of the thoroughbreds was completed on Thursday so they can be positively identified through The Jockey Club if their parents were both registered. Cheak said a rush has been put on the blood sent to California for testing and as soon as they’re identified they can be matched with anyone claiming ownership.
One of the strangest things Cheak and her volunteers found on the farm was that it appears Chuck Borell had been feeding the horses cat food in the absence of any hay or grain or money to purchase it. Several cases of cans of cat food had been purchased for the four cats living in the barns by the farm’s owner and for the past few weeks the group has been finding empty cat food cans in all the paddocks.
“There really isn’t any other explanation,” Cheak said. “There were cases of cat food here, so I guess he’d open the cans and put them in the paddocks and the horses would eat the food right out of the cans because they were so hungry they’d eat anything. And when I say there were a lot of cans in all the paddocks, there were a lot of cans — way more than cats to feed. And we keep finding more cans every day.”
As of now, Cheak said she’s not clear on where the investigation regarding the Borells sits, but hopes for continued pressure to be kept up on the county attorney as much as possible. She fears if there’s no plea deal or conviction that the Borells will try to retrieve the horses helped by so many caring strangers.
“My fear is that if there aren’t any convictions this will all be for nothing. These horses deserve more after all they’ve been through, so I hope the investigation continues and they are made to answer for this. And I hope the laws are actually changed, because this cannot happen again. We’re Kentucky and we are the horse capital of the world. We owe it to the horses. Thank God for people like Victoria Keith and Rick Porter, who have taken legal steps to actually try to prevent this from happening again by working to change the laws. And the state vets, like Rusty Ford and Shane Mitchell and their staff. I can tell you if they didn’t step up and draw the necessary attention that at least eight or ten of these horses would be dead now, so I am so absolutely grateful for them and their help.”
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.
After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.
In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”
Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.