For Immediate Release:
April 30, 2012
Press Release: Amid uproar and death, racing officials and enthusiasts fight to protect the horses they love.
EXCERPT from Big Purses, Sore Horses, and Death, published in the New York Times
By JOE DRAPE, WALT BOGDANICH, REBECCA R. RUIZ and GRIFFIN PALMER
Horses have never been a game to Earle I Mack. A real estate developer, philanthropist and former ambassador to Finland, Mr. Mack began breeding and racing thoroughbreds more than 50 years ago. He spent seven years in the 1980s as chairman of the New York State Racing Commission.
Over the past nine months, Mr. Mack has had a frustrating, front-row seat for how horses are treated in the casino era of horse racing. In 2008, he brought a beautifully bred horse from Argentina named Star Plus to the United States. Star Plus won one race and took second in another. Although minor injuries sidelined him in 2009, he won a race the following year. But on March 28, 2010, at Gulfstream Park, he suffered a career-ending ankle injury. The veterinarian recommended he never be ridden again.
Mr. Mack retired Star Plus to a farm in Florida. But last summer, Mr. Mack said he sold the horse for just $1,000, after the new owners agreed not to race him again.
Instead, the new owners, George Iacovacci and Kelly Spanabel, began training Star Plus. Records show that Mr. Iacovacci, an owner-trainer, and Ms. Spanabel, a jockey, eke out a living at casino racetracks, which often pay purse money through last place. Last year, for example, horses Mr. Iacovacci owned made more than $90,000, despite winning only five times.
When Mr. Mack found out Star Plus was training, he alerted racing officials and offered to buy him back. The couple refused. Last July, they ran Star Plus in Michigan and, in November, in two races at West Virginia’s Mountaineer Park. He finished last all three times.
On Jan. 9, after discovering Star Plus was entered to run two days later at Charles Town, Mr. Mack faxed a letter to the West Virginia Racing Commission.
“As you are undoubtedly aware,” he wrote, “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.” Darcy Scudera, who cares for Mr. Mack’s horses in Florida, also contacted West Virginia officials, but was told there was nothing they could do.
Three weeks later, Mr. Mack wrote to the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, but he said he never heard back.
On Jan. 28, Star Plus was again outclassed by six other horses, clomping home 43 1/4 lengths behind. Even so, he earned his owners $1,000.
“This is clearly abuse, and anyone interested in animals should have stopped it,” Mr. Mack said. “But these tracks need full fields and have got to fill races. That’s why they pay $1,000 for last place.”
Last month, after the West Virginia attorney general’s office persuaded state racing officials to hear the case, Mr. Iacovacci and Ms. Spanabel sold the horse back to Mr. Mack for $7,000. Ms. Spanabel said that she and Mr. Iacovacci never agreed to retire Star Plus, and that they decided to sell the horse back when it became clear he was not going to be allowed to compete.
Star Plus is now retired in Kentucky.
“These horses have fought so hard for us and given us so many great thrills and happiness,” Mr. Mack said. “Don’t they deserve to be cared for? Don’t they deserve better than what we’re giving them?”
Source: New York Times