Three Chimneys presents Good News Friday: Finally Peace for Star Plus

by | 03.30.2012 | 12:38pm

All's well that ends well.

The last time I wrote about 9-year-old Star Plus, the Argentine Group 1 winner who was being raced despite what his previous owner said were serious physical problems, he was in the private possesion of owner-breeder George Iacovacci Sr. and a distant trailer in every one of his four starts.

Doesn't this horse deserve better?” I asked.

Today I have much better news to report. Star Plus has been purchased back by Earle I. Mack, who imported the son of Alpha Plus from his native Argentine and raced him in allowance and stakes company from 2008-10, when his career was cut short by a serious injury. He will be moved to Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky., where he can live out his days in tranquility, something that can't be said about the last year. Mack is making generous donation to the horse retirement operation to ensure he is well cared for.

Star Plus was a horse that many felt was in danger since he resurfaced racing for his new connections.

It all began when Darcy Scudero, who handles some of Mack's bloodstock, was authorized to sell Star Plus for stallion duty following a period of rehabilitation after a March 2010 race. One of those who responded to an advertisement for Star Plus was Kelly Spanabel, a jockey that Scudero once rode with. They reached an agreement for the horse to be sold to Spanabel's partner, Iacovacci, for $1,000, and Scudero wrote a note on the bill of sale that “this horse is being retired from racing PERMANENTLY” and “when done with horse to be placed in approved and proper retirement home.”

Whether or not Spanabel agreed to those terms may be in question. It wasn't long before Star Plus was put back in training, to the horror of Scudero, Mack, the horse's former trainer Angel Penna Jr., and veterinarian Gene Hill, who treated Star Plus following what his connections believed to be a career-ending injury.

Star Plus ran in Michigan, then West Virginia, then Pennsylvania. Mack wrote letters to the head of racing commissions in the latter two states pointing out the horse's medical problems and urging them to stop Star Plus from being raced again. At first, his request fell on deaf ears.

Fortunately, some people stepped up. Officials at Parx Racing, where Star Plus lost by more than 43 lengths on Jan. 28, said the horse couldn't race there again. Other tracks put him on a vet's list, meaning Star Plus would have to work out to the track veterinarian's satisfaction before he could race again.

But the biggest breakthrough came on March 8 when Kelli D. Talbott, the senior deputy attorney general for the state of West Virginia, demanded Iacovacci appear before the Mountaineer Park board of stewards on March 23 to answer questions about the ownership and condition of Star Plus. Iacovacci had told the stewards an earlier letter from the racing commission said it had no jurisdiction over the matter, but Talbott felt differently.

“If you choose not to come to the hearing and present evidence, you do so at your own peril and possible detriment,” Talbott wrote to Iacovacci. “If you are not there at your own choosing, the hearing will be held in your absence and a decision as to whether or not Star Plus should go on the Stewards' List shall be made in your absence.”

Several people had been working pro bono on Mack's behalf, both with the racing commissions and in attempting to repurchase Star Plus and ensure his safe being, including a trio of attorneys, Karen Murphy, Maggi Mossi and Fred Heyman. Then there were the 1,000-plus people who, within three days of an article about Star Plus's plight in the Paulick Report, had signed a petition demanding the horse be spared from further racing.

As the date of the hearing approached, Spanabel began putting notices on her personal Facebook page that Star Plus was being sold to overseas interests and that his racing career would continue. All that awaited, she wrote, was the transfer of funds. She indicated in a private message to me that Star Plus would soon be on his way to Belize.

But that all turned out to be a smokescreen, at best. The stewards conducted what was a very contentious hearing in which assistant attorney general Talbott demanded to know the whereabouts of Star Plus. Penna and Hill, the horse's former trainer and veterinarian, both testified by telephone on the severe injury suffered by Star Plus, necessitating his retirement, and Mack's attorneys raised enough questions about the horse's sale and the conditions that stewards ruled he would be ineligible to race or work out until those questions were clarified. Their ruling would be enforced in all states.

That was one week ago today.

The same afternoon, Spanabel wrote on her Facebook page: “Good luck Star. He left this afternoon on his long journey out of the country. I hope they take care of you. Forced to send you where you can race and won't be harassed.”

That turned out to be a lie.

By noon the next day, a Saturday, Mack's representatives had worked out the final details to purchase Star Plus back for $7,000 and bring him to Kentucky. Chris Englehart, who trains for Moss, along with his stable manager and brother, Steve, executed the transaction and arranged for a van to pick up Star Plus later that afternoon in West Virginia. He had never left for Texas.  

By 5:30 Star Plus was in their possession, his future no longer in doubt.

When the deal was done, Murphy thanked Talbott, the West Virginia assistant attorney general who took a personal interest in a case she could just as easily as passed off as none of the state's business.  She called it “wonderful news” to learn that the horse had been reunited with his former owner.

Talbott's response to Murphy was simple and to the point. “Godspeed to Star Plus.”

*    *    *

Thanks to the generosity of Three Chimneys Farm, the sponsor of Good News Friday, a donation of $100 will be made to Old Friends. Three Chimneys will be donating $100 each and every week we bring you a story of people or organizations making a positive difference in our world.

  • Giacomoin05

    Fantastic! Glad to see that Star Plus will live a comfortable life for the rest of his days. Thank you so very much Ray, for alerting people to the plight of this horse. We can’t help them all, but one is better than none.

  • DelMarla

    Thank God, and Spanabel should never be allowed to own a horse again.

  • Anne

    If anyone knows of a place where no animals exist, perhaps horse-lovers can arrange for  Spanabel and LeFevre to be relocated there?

  • Rachel

    A much better fate than 16000 US horses and however many horses in Japan, not that I’m juding anyone’s culture or beliefs, since this is not a human rights issue…

  • Greyfel

    I love the Good News Friday segments.

     Kudos to Three Chimneys, Kelli D. Talbot, Earl I. Mack,Old Friends,Parx Racing,Karen Murphy,Maggi Mossi,Fred Heyman,Angel Penna,Jr.,Gene Hill, all of the folks who signed the petition,the Paulick Report,Chris and Steve Englehart and everyone who had a hand in this rescue.

    I hope that kharma circles back to Kelly Spanabel and George Iacovacci Sr. and that they examine their actions and try to understand why they were so wrong.

    A long and happy retirement to Star Plus.

  • This is just the beginning of a much needed shift in consciousness (and good conscience) that’s sorely needed in the world of horse-human relationships.  More of this kind of exposure will change current negative consensus about those of us involved in racing; for the love of the horses rather than love of the dollar.

  • frankie conditions

    Sapanbell and company need to be barred or at least recognized for who and what they are (I’ll be kind) bad for racing ! PR and other industry information sources have the ability to publicize this broadly and loudly and they should.
    Given the current state of affairs and the arrows (big , frequent and powerful) coming racings way these people and others like them (Lefever remeber her just a couple months ago) and multiple violation trainers need to be ostricized !
    Thanks for sharing and keep the heat on these gangsters ! Great job by Mr. Mack, Ms. Moss, etc. etc, and the representative in W.V. !

  • Ann Taylor

    WOW – it took “a village” to do GOOD! Too many would have used him up, and, those users are precisely the types that racing must expose and expel. May Star Plus enjoy  royal treatment at “Old Friends”, and may the “village” of friends who rescued him feel rewarded. Well done!!   

  • Johnathan Miller

    This is great news Ray. We had a similar story with Band Performance (raced over 130 taces). Could not stand for two days after he was rescued at New Holland. But now he is a happy camper living on our farm in Virginia. Fat and happy in a twenty acre pasture with three pensioned mares and a retired gelding (wobbler) that I brought home from England.

    Hats off to a true team effort for Star Plus!

    Johnathan Miller

  • Sandra Warren

    Ah yes, the “I’m exporting him to a foreign country” sales technique.  Shame on them for wringing another $7000 out for retiring a crippled horse that earned his own retirement. Shame!

  • Ukdebbo

    That’s great news.  I’m so happy for Star Plus.  I’ve visited Old Friends a few times and I know that Star Plus will live a happy, pampered life there.  A high hoof to everyone who made this possible. 

  • i’m so proud of the folks involved in star plus’ retirement. we all needed some good news.

  • JC

    Kudos to all who helped with this and I am sending some money to Old Friends.  Blessings on Star Plus, and prayers too for all his future care.  If his initial evaluation and medical bills turn out to be extensive, I hope Old Friends posts here for donations. 

    I wonder if Kelly Spanabel and co. have ever read any French?  If not, I’ll translate: 

    “The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception,
    the one who lies with sincerity.”
        — André Gide, French writer who won the 1947 Nobel Prize for literature

  • JC

     Rachel, I like the way you think.  :-) 

  • Horsehale

    Lenny Hale, Kudos to Kelli Talbott who has the courage and conviction to stand up for what is right. I was fortunate to work with her for my 4 years with the Charles Town HBPA including rewriting of the Rules of Racing for West Virginia and it was a pleasure to find someone willing to be open minded and subjective in a sport that she has come to embrace. Continued Success. 

  • dh

    especially the “village idiot” that sold Kelly the horse.

  • Vinnie

    I’m so happy for Star Plus. Thanks to Earl Mack & all the connections who saved him! However, there is a dark side to this story. Why did it take so much to get the racing commissions to comply? This upsets and disturbs me. Not everyone has the money and influence of Earl Mack. There have been other similar stories like this where the horse was not saved from unethical people. This industry has a long list of things that need to change and this is one of them. There should be a rule that no TB will be permitted to run if the previous owner can show proof that the horse was sold “not for racing.” It is so simple to enact. This racing business never ceases to amaze me!

  • Gogogunther

    Kelly Spanabel is not smart enough to understand your comment JC even though you spelled it out for her! I couldn’t agree more with you! she should be so ashamed that she would treat any horse or animal for that matter that way! SHAME ON YOU KELLY

  • michael

    Ray, Just an update…Star Plus is doing great..I like all of our retirees but I only love a few of them and Star Plus is in the top three…You did a great story…and a great service…Darcy Scudero came to visit him earlier this week…

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