Five banned in Suffolk Downs no slaughter policy (Mass)

Advocates against horse slaughter are routinely given the runaround by a whole host of horse industry folks. So predictably when Suffolk Downs announced they would ban those who knowingly or willingly sent Thoroughbreds who raced at their track to slaughter, we hoped they were serious, and they would really take action.

They were and they did.

STEVE MYRICK filed the following story for the THOROUGHBRED TIMES, 7 Nov 08:

Suffolk Downs has banned five people for violating the East Boston track’s zero-tolerance policy toward horse slaughter.

An owner and four licensed trainers were banished after track officials confirmed that five horses transported from the track in late October or early November were found in a kill pen at a livestock auction company in New Holland, Pennsylvania, several days later.

Racehorse retirement organizations say that horses sold at that auction often are purchased by agents from slaughterhouses.

According to several people familiar with the sequence of events, licensed trainer Pam Pompell approached several other trainers asking for horses who were candidates for retirement.

According to track officials, trainer Wayne Sargent Jr. turned over three horses to Pompell. They were Tiny Target, a three-year old that was winless in 14 career starts; Jimmy the Gov, a six-year old gelding that had been running in bottom-level claiming races; and Arrested Gatorgirl, a five-year old mare who won only two of 27 starts.

Pompell also acquired Tercia de Reinas from trainer Gerry LaFleur and Storm Up Front from trainer Tony D’Angelo. Both of those horses also were unsuccessful at the lowest claiming levels.

All three trainers said they accepted no money for the horses, and that Pompell told them she would send them to a children’s camp or a therapeutic riding program, according to track officials.

Pompell then arranged transportation of the five horses to Chipaway Farm in Acushnet, Massachusetts, about an hour away from Suffolk Downs. Al Michelson, a licensed trainer who owned several horses trained by Pompell this past summer, said he drove the horses halfway to the farm, and turned them over to Dave Costa, the proprietor of the farm.

Pompell and Michelson said they accepted only reimbursement for fuel costs in exchange for the five horses. Both Pompell and Michelson say they had no idea the horses would wind up in a slaughter pen. They claim Costa told them the horses were intended for shipment to Florida to be retrained as polo ponies. Costa did not return a message left at the farm requesting comment.

On November 3, Suffolk Downs Vice President of Racing Sam Elliot confirmed the five horses were in a slaughter pen in New Holland. He made arrangements to purchase them, paying $2,700. According to track officials, the track split the cost and the shipping fees with the New England HBPA. The horses were sent to a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation facility in Virginia, where they were quarantined because of exposure to other animals at the auction.

Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer for the track, said Suffolk Downs exercised its right to ban Pompell, Michelson, D’Angelo, LaFleur, and Sargent from the grounds.

“There are lots of different stories here and everyone has some plausible deniability, but what’s the sense of having this policy if we’re going to let people skirt around it,” Tuttle told THOROUGHBRED TIMES. “The bottom line is that these horses were endangered and en route to being slaughtered less than 48 hours after leaving here, and the people responsible for them have the responsibility to help us prevent that.”

In phone conversations with THOROUGHBRED TIMES, both Pompell and Michelson were defiant, insisting they did nothing wrong.

“Suffolk Downs could blow up as far as I care,” Pompell said. “Neither of us had any idea they were going there. I shouldn’t be held responsible.”

She said she was not bothered by the banishment and that she never again would set foot on the grounds of Suffolk Downs.

“I’m out of the business,” she said. “I’ve lost all my horses. I’ve lost all my owners. They literally put me out of business.”

Michelson insisted he transported the horses as a favor to those involved.

“They came to us to get rid of them because they didn’t want them,” Michelson said. “Suffolk Downs is looking to cause me trouble. I’ll cause them more trouble than they’ve ever had. I’m not an amateur in the livestock business.”

While those involved say they were duped or deny the horses were ever intended for slaughter, many around the track have little doubt the trainers knew the fate that awaited the horses.

Lorita Lindeman is a licensed trainer who has been active in racehorse retirement issues for more than a decade. She is well known on the backstretch as the “go-to” person when a race horse needs a home.

“I think it’s about irresponsibility,” said Lindeman. “They have the services and the people there to help them. So it’s on them now. They should have questioned in their own minds who they gave the horses to.

“I don’t think they intended the horses to go there. But they should have thought. The result is they ended up in a slaughter pen. There’s no excuse. People know. This isn’t new to everybody in the horse industry.”

Tuttle pointed out that the track supports several programs and events focusing on racehorse retirement, and that no horse had ever been turned away from the retirement organizations who work with the track.

Steve Myrick is a Massachustetts-based Thoroughbred Times correspondent

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