While more than 40 horses, most of them former racehorses and Jockey Club-registered thoroughbreds, sit hungry and neglected on a Mercer County, Kentucky, farm, hundreds of people both inside and outside of the racing and breeding industry have questioned why local authorities as well as industry executives and organizations have not only done nothing to help, but refuse to even acknowledge the dire situation, despite the very public nature of the issue for almost two months.
The horses’ situation was first brought to light in an article published at USRacing.com on May 26 detailing the years of neglect of both horses and properties rented by former trainer Maria Borell and/or her father Chuck and, again, in a follow-up published on June 24, which included several dramatic photos.
Though the owner of the horses is believed to be either Maria Borell, the listed trainer of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) winner Runhappy, and/or her father, for months the pair have pointed fingers back and forth regarding the ownership status of the horses, as well as who is responsible for their care. However, in several recent text messages, Maria Borell has claimed the horses are hers and said “nobody is taking my horses.”
The farm where the horses are currently housed was rented by Chuck Borell, as was the previous property known as Stonegate in Woodford County, but many of the horses are listed as owned by Maria Borell or were entrusted to Maria’s care by previous owners. The Borells collectively moved the horses from one property to the other in early May and, while Maria hasn’t been seen on the Mercer County property since, Chuck Borell has visited a handful of times, according to volunteers, but provided no funds for feed or care. All of the supplies have come from the Mercer County sheriff and staff, or small private donations, and delivered to be used by the skeleton staff of volunteers on site.
Additionally, the same group of horses was housed at Kara Harrison’s Colby Fields farm, which was rented by Maria Borell in late 2013 and occupied by her until she vacated that property in early December of 2015.
This past week, though, after reading the most recent information and seeing the exclusive photos published by USRacing.com, two prominent industry insiders wanted to see what was going on for themselves.
Rick Porter and Victoria Keith of Fox Hill Farms had been reading about the situation and viewing the photos and spent some time discussing their concerns. After seeing the initial reports, both had been wondering if the horse were OK, but found out from the most recent update that they were in dire circumstances. Porter is probably best known as owner of top racehorses Eight Belles, Havre de Grace, Fresian Fire, Hard Spun, Round Pond, Joyful Victory, Rockport Harbor and many more, including last year’s undefeated Champion Juvenile Filly Songbird. He has also successfully placed many of his own runners in homes following their racing careers.
“Rick (Porter) is someone who loves horses and dogs and all animals,” Keith said. “We wondered who had the proper authority to step in and remedy the situation.”
Wanting to see the conditions of the horses, Keith took it upon herself to visit the farm early Sunday morning. She wanted to get a first-hand look so she could provide support and act — as well as apply pressure on authorities if necessary. Despite having followed the case on USRacing.com and seeing all the photos dating back for months, Keith believed the best way she could gauge the situation for herself (and Porter) was to see the horses in person.
Keith was not prepared for what she saw.
“Of the 41 horses I counted, 36 appear to be thoroughbreds.” Keith said. “There were about 10, in my opinion, who are emaciated, and approximately 20 others with some level of malnourishment. The others, including five non-thoroughbreds, were in better flesh.
“All of them need farrier attention, some with serious issues from abscesses to curling toes and tremendously bad, long hooves.”
At this point, Keith said she would willing to do as much as she can to help out, including foster a couple of the horses until they’re well enough again to be relocated to permanent, loving homes.
“I wouldn’t mind bringing a couple here to my farm,” Keith said “It was heartbreaking to see them in this condition. Seeing them that way, I would have gladly brought a couple home with me today if I could have. It would give me great joy to help bring them back health.”
At this point Keith said she would willing to do as much as she can to help out, including foster a couple of the horses until they’re well enough again to be relocated to permanent, loving homes.
“If possible I’d like to bring a couple here to my farm,” Keith said “It was heartbreaking to see them in this condition. I will do as much as I can to help.”
Allegedly, a meeting will take place on Monday afternoon between the Kentucky state vet, the Mercer County sheriff and the Mercer County attorney to determine what will happen with the care of the horses moving forward. Pressure thanks to the most recent USRacing.com article has put them all in the public crosshairs and pressure to remedy the situation has never been higher. Keith will be waiting for news.
“If something doesn’t happen (Monday) and something isn’t done to help those horses by someone with authority or influence we are prepared to reach out to anyone and everyone we can and put as much pressure as possible on the situation,” Keith said.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of US Racing.
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 in Kentucky 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 Robinson, Texas, with her longtime beau, Tony. She is the executive director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue, The Bridge Sanctuary.