The twisting and troubled story of trainer Maria Borell took another shocking turn this week when more than 40 horses owned by her and/or her father, Chuck, were again found in deplorable conditions at yet another rented Kentucky farm. The group of horses, now located on a private property in Mercer County just outside of Harrodsburg, is the same as was previously found and documented to be in poor shape via photos and cell phone video in Woodford County by trainer Ken Summerville a few days before this year’s Kentucky Derby (GI).
Summerville, who hasn’t given up his quest to find the three horses he says Maria Borell took from him via lien when he was hospitalized in 2014 battling a life-threatening auto-immune disease, said once he found out the horses were moved out of Woodford County he set out trying to find their location. He called in multiple favors from multiple friends to get his hands on the address and, after a few weeks of searching, finally unearthed the location in late May.
“I never thought (the horses would) be released by the authorities from Stonegate (the farm in Woodford County rented by the Borells),” Summerville said. “So when I heard they were moved, I was angry and I was absolutely going to find them. I just hoped it’d be in time to help them.”
Armed with a group of friends to help document the conditions of the horses, ten days before the Belmont Stakes, Summerville went to the Mercer county property and found the horses in worse shape than ever. He and his group documented several horses of all ages with open sores all over their bodies, as well as yearlings not yet weaned and nearly every one hadn’t had blacksmith attention in months. Additionally, the horses were drinking unclean water from filthy buckets and troughs and many were housed in paddocks with broken fences that had yet to be repaired.
“They are the same horses as were on Kara’s farm and also Stonegate and were much worse off than they’d ever been, no question,” Summerville said. “At least with the other farms there were people there every day, but not this one. The owner lives in Tennessee and aside from another person renting space on the other side of the farm, nobody was watching.”
Longtime horsewoman Tres Delaforce, who is also a trainer, agreed to accompany Summerville on that first visit to the Mercer County property mostly because she wanted to see the condition of the horses herself. She says she heard about the poor care of Borell’s horses for “a long time,” but wanted to see the alleged neglect herself.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life,” Delaforce said. “Those horses hadn’t had basic care or regular feed in months. They were skin and bones. None were in acceptable shape. There was a worker there who told us the horses hadn’t had food in at least 10 days at that point — and you could tell. Some were even locked in a barn the entire time they were there, which had to have been at least two weeks. There was a dog there that the worker told me had been locked in a stall and that they were feeding her cat food.”
Following that visit, Summerville and Delaforce immediately paid a visit to the Mercer County sheriff, Ernie Kelty, to notify him of the condition of the horses and to see if there were any legal channels to help the horses. The sheriff agreed to investigate, they said, but acknowledged to them that it would take some time. For the past few weeks, Summerville and Delaforce have been waiting for the wheels of justice to finally turn in favor of the horses and all follow-up calls to Kelty were either unreturned or they were told the situation was in the “state’s hands.”
Then, this past Thursday, a volunteer on the farm desperate for help contacted Summerville. The volunteer told him that in the three weeks since she last saw Chuck Borell the condition of the horses has reached a dire situation and many cannot wait much longer for the state to intervene.
“She told me the horses were worse than ever,” Summerville said. “And that I needed to come and see right away. So I went back and she was right. Bad. Just bad.”
Summerville took photos and videos of the neglect. Delaforce, who thought she’d seen the worst of it, was stunned.
“The fact that (county and state officials) knew about this for weeks and let this continue boggles the mind,” Delaforce said. “I was speechless and that’s saying a lot for me. I could barely take any photos I was so stunned. Stunned.”
According to the volunteer, some feed has been provided by the sheriff, as well as volunteers, but the horses need much more, including grain and vet care and attention from a blacksmith. The volunteer said neither Maria Borell nor her father have contributed at all to the horses’ expenses and haven’t been seen or heard from in weeks.
“They left one woman to be in charge of taking care of all of the horses and organizing volunteers,” the source said. “She’s doing the best she can, but there are too many horses to take care of and too many are in such bad shape. They’ve had hay, but that’s been only since the sheriff stepped in. They haven’t had vet care and only a couple have seen the blacksmith and I guess he wasn’t paid either. No vet will come out unless they’re paid first.
“Nobody’s even sure who owns the horses. (Borell) I guess has said they’re his daughter’s horses, but he’s told some other people they’re his, so I don’t know what to think. All we know is that one or both of them are responsible for these horses and nobody has seen either of them in weeks. I’ve never even seen Maria herself. I was told she was here the first day they moved in and hasn’t been back since.”
The woman left in charge, Angie Cheak, when contacted by phone would only say she’s doing her best to care for the horses with limited resources.
“I don’t have a comment,” Cheak said. “We are doing the best we can. I can’t say anything else.”
Borell, who was the listed trainer for Gallery Racing’s Runhappy when the three-year-old won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) last October 31, was recently sued by Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital for non-payment of fees and didn’t show up to a scheduled hearing in Fayette County on June 10. She also has other default judgments against her and her training license in Kentucky is currently listed as “not valid” and “suspended for non-payment” in New York.
Additionally, Borell is currently involved in litigation against Gallery owner Jim McIngvale, who she alleges terminated her from her duties as private trainer and refused to pay the standard ten percent to trainers for winning, as is customary in racing for independent contractors. Borell maintains she had no such agreement despite her role as private trainer and has refused comment since late last year.
Calls and emails to the Mercer County sheriff, the county attorney, Milward Dedman, and the Kentucky state veterinarian were not returned as of this writing.
A GoFundMe account has been set up for donations that will go directly to the care of the horses and can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/AbandonedHorseFund.
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 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.