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Racing Commissioners Are Not Looking for the Welfare of Horses

Posted by on February 2, 2012

My friend, Ray Paulick  has brought the story of Star Plus to light.

The first thing I want to say is thank you to Earle Mack for trying to do the right thing by the horses. By making sure there is a covenant in the bill of sale, Earle did what was responsible and expected to make sure Star Plus did not cause further injury to himself and others. By following up with the racing commissioners, Earle has gone the extra mile. To him, those of us who love horse racing and the animals that bring so much pleasure to us we owe a debt of gratitude.

To the racing commissioners in the States of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, shame on you. You owe a duty to the horsemen to make sure that the races that are run in your states are done so fairly and that the horses are appropriate to run a race. Star Plus was neither. 

Earle Mack knew it and tried to make sure the horse never ran a race. You were too myopic to see that and could not care less about the animal. As a result every time the horse sets foot on the track, further injury is risked – not only to the horse but to the other jockeys and horses entered in the race. Clearly the horse is noncompetitive, finishing no better than 20 lengths behind the winner in three starts in 2011.

The fact this is allowed to go on is preposterous and the Racing Commissioners governing body needs to set uniform standards as a result.

With Ray’s permission, I’m re-posting the story in it’s entirety:

 

(originally appeared in Paulick Report on 2/2/12)

 Saga of Star Plus: Doesn’t this horse deserve better?

Earle I. Mack was only trying to do the right thing.

The businessman, philanthropist, former United States Ambassador to Finland, and Thoroughbred owner and breeder wanted to ensure an injured Group 1-winning horse would never race again and would be placed in an approved and proper retirement home if the plans of a new owner to stand the horse at stud didn’t work out.

It is what he does, because Earle Mack believes we have an obligation to protect these horses.

Despite his best efforts, however, Mack said he has been betrayed, not only by the individual who bought the Argentinean-bred Star Plus but by state racing commissions in West Virginia and Pennsylvania who have allowed the horse to race despite being notified of documentation showing, in no uncertain terms, he was purchased under the condition that he was being retired from racing permanently.

This disturbing saga is further evidence of how far the horse racing industry has spiraled, in some jurisdictions, out of the hands of people who have the best interests of the animals at heart.

Star Plus caught Mack’s eye when the son of Alpha Plus won the Group 1 Gran Premio Internacional Joaquin S. de Anchorena at Argentina’s San Isidro racecourse in December 2007. It was the horse’s fourth win, to go along with six seconds and one third-place finish in 14 starts, almost all in top-class group stakes company.

Mack purchased Star Plus and imported him to the United States, where he ran five times in 2008, winning an allowance race at Keeneland and finishing second in the G3 Turfway Park Fall Championship.

Star Plus was sidelined in 2009, then came back the following year to win one of three races, an allowance/optional claiming event on turf at Gulfstream Park on March 28, 2010. He came out of that race with what Mack described as a “severe ankle injury” that resulted in his retirement.

In a recent letter to Joe Smith, chairman of the West Virginia Racing Commission, Mack said Star Plus “was given a long rest at a farm with the expectation that we could find a good home for him to live out his years in a healthy and productive manner.

“We were advised,” his letter continued, “that there was a small breeding operation that was interested in his services, and we agreed to let them have him with the conditions that he could never be raced again and that we would be immediately notified if they no longer wished to take care of him so that we could find a suitable alternative retirement home.”

On June 28, 2011, according to a copy of a Bill of Sale provided to the Paulick Report, Star Plus was sold to George Iacovacci for the amount of $1,000. In the section that reads, “Any other conditions are as follows” is a hand-written note saying: “When done with horse to be placed in approved and proper retirement home.”

Further, an asterisk in that section is noted at the bottom of the Bill of Sale with the following: “This horse is being retired from racing PERMANENTLY.”  Click here to view the Star Plus documents.

Shortly after the sale, Mack learned that the new owner of Star Plus put the horse back in training.  Stewards in Kentucky and Pennsylvania were alerted to the situation, Mack said, and the entry of Star Plus was blocked at certain tracks. But the horse was successfully entered to race on July 24, 2011, at Mt. Pleasant Meadows in Michigan, where he finished last of six runners, beaten more than 20 lengths.

On Nov. 21, Star Plus was entered again, this time at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia, where he finished last of five runners, beaten 22 1/2 lengths. One week later, Iacovacci entered and ran Star Plus a third time, again at Mountaineer Park. Again, he trailed the field, finishing 38 lengths behind the field. He carried for a $40,000 claiming price.

There were no takers.

On Jan. 9, after learning that Star Plus was entered to run two days later at Penn National Gaming’s Charles Town races in West Virginia, Mack faxed a letter to West Virginia Racing Commission chairman Smith, re-telling the history of Star Plus and Mack’s efforts to enforce the conditions of the Bill of Sale.

“As you are undoubtedly aware,” Mack wrote in his letter to Smith, “with an impaired ankle this horse is a danger to himself, his rider and everyone on any track where he is allowed to work and race.

“The three times STAR PLUS has been allowed to race for Iacovacci he placed last each time by expanding margins – 20 3/4 lengths, 22 1/2 lengths and on Nov. 28 he lost by 38 lengths at Mountaineer Park, with the chart comment ‘labored throughout.’

“Obviously the horse is severely impaired and we ask you to act immediately to stop this blatant animal abuse and to bring an end to the deceit that has been perpetrated on all of racing. We stand ready, as we have from the moment this tragic breach was uncovered, to take this horse back and to protect him for his natural life.”

Mack wasn’t the only one contacting racing officials. Darcy Scudero, who operates Center Stage Farm in Florida and executed the Bill of Sale on behalf of Mack, sent numerous emails to racing officials in an effort to keep Star Plus off the racetrack.

On Jan. 30, she received this note from Jon Amores, executive director of the West Virginia Racing Commission:

“Dear Ms. Scudero,

“I have been in receipt of your emails and am very much aware of your concerns; however, after reviewing the matter with our counsel I have been advised that if you want to stop the current owners of the horse, you must bring a lawsuit against them or if indeed there is a forgery, you need to report it to the appropriate prosecuting attorney. Our Board of Stewards is not the appropriate venue to deal with contractual and criminal issues. If a judgment of some sort is obtained against the current owners of the horse, we will be happy to enforce the judgment in a manner consistent with our procedures and authority.”

In other words, the West Virginia racing commission is saying “it’s not our job” to protect the horses.

On Jan. 26, after learning that the entry of Star Plus had been accepted to run Jan. 28 at Parx Racing in Philadelphia, Mack sent a fax to equine veterinarian Corinne Sweeney, chairman of the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission. Attached to the fax was a copy of Mack’s letter to West Virginia commission chairman Smith, outlining the history of this sordid affair.

“We ask that you intervene in this matter and assist us in contacting the stewards to have the horse scratched from the race for the reasons stated in the attached letter,” Mack wrote.

According to Maggi Moss, one of his attorneys, Earle Mack heard nothing in response to his request from Sweeney or anyone else at the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission.

I’m sorry to say I am not surprised. If there is a more ineffectual racing commission and staff in all of North American horse racing than that in Pennsylvania, I would be stunned. It is truly a bureaucratic cesspool of self-serving political sycophants.

As a result of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission’s indifference to Earle Mack’s request, on Jan. 28, carrying a $40,000 claiming price in an allowance/optional claiming race at Parx, Star Plus finished last of seven runners, beaten 43 1/4 lengths. He was 32 lengths behind the sixth-place horse.

Last night I received the following email from Maggi Moss, a leading Thoroughbred owner herself who has worked tirelessly on behalf of Thoroughbred after-care organizations.

It reads in full:

THOROUGHBRED SAFETY?  A LITTLE HELP FROM “OUR RACING LEADERS”?

Star Plus is a nine year old Graded Stakes horse formerly campaigned by Earle Mack, a respected, and responsible owner.  Mr. Mack did everything required in assuring a safe home for this remarkable horse he owned. He specifically stated in the paperwork,  “this horse is being retired from racing permanently.” The horse was retired due to severe injuries, and specifically was to be placed “in an approved and proper retirement home.”

George Iacovacci Sr. as owner and trainer has now run STAR PLUS in Michigan, Mountaineer Park in West Virginia and Parx in Philadelphia; in four races, he has been beaten a total of 123 lengths. His last race at Parx on January 28, 2012, he was beaten 43 lengths.

Mr. Mack – along with his attorney, Karen Murphy, and now myself, Maggi Moss – has notified every jurisdiction where entered by letter, as to the Bill of Sale notification “never to race again”; along with communication as to the unsoundness of this horse, and the potential danger to other participants in the race.

The Executive Director of the West Virginia Racing Commission has replied, “that a lawsuit should be filed, or a report made to the prosecuting attorney.”  The Chairman of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission never responded.

If officials, stewards, or racing personnel have the knowledge that a horse is running that was acquired under deceit, is this not a matter that deals with the integrity of our sport? More importantly, if information comes to track officials or Commissions that a horse has a known and serious physical injury that forced his retirement from racing, isn’t this worth an inquiry? If a horse in four races has been beaten over a hundred lengths, shouldn’t this be a concern of racing officials and worthy of being placed on a Stewards or Vets list?  Wouldn’t the safety of other horses or harm to jockeys be a concern?   Most importantly, what about  the welfare of the horse involved?

Who is and should be policing our sport if not our leaders? If with this knowledge, and this horse be allowed to continue racing, who’s liable for the horse or jockey that gets hurt?  Most importantly, who protects STAR PLUS?

This is a case where a responsible owner intended to do the right thing for his horse, and when defrauded,  turned to the individual guardians of our racetracks. Must we all file litigation in Court, or should we be able to turn to officials for help? – Maggi Moss

In conclusion, I ask our readers, and our industry leaders who undoubtedly will learn of this unfortunate saga of Star Plus: Is this really the best we can do?

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