The tale of five horses from the Suffolk Downs backstretch that recently ended up in the kill pen of the infamous New Holland, Pa., livestock auction demonstrates the challenges the East Boston, Mass., racetrack has in enforcing its “zero-tolerance” horse welfare policy that will ban trainers or owners who sell their horses for slaughter.
The five Thoroughbreds discovered at New Holland were saved from an ignominious death in a Canadian slaughterhouse, one that typically follows a cramped and uncomfortable van ride with other livestock. Instead, these five horses are being placed in retirement or retraining facilities. Because of the incident, however, five people, including trainer Pam Pompell and owner Albert Michelson, have been told they are no longer welcome at Suffolk Downs.
The story begins Oct. 26, when the New England division of CANTER (Communications Alliance to Network Ex-Racehorses) held its third annual Suffolk Showcase to bring potential horses and adopters together. The Suffolk meeting, which ends tomorrow, has a number of horses whose future in racing has been compromised by physical infirmities or lack of competitiveness. They are among the population becoming known as “unwanted horses.”
Trainer Pompell was one of those who attended the CANTER showcase. Two days later, it is alleged, she approached trainers Gerry LeFleur and Tony D'Angelo and said she had good homes for horses each of them brought to the Suffolk showcase, either at a Boy Scout camp or another charitable program for special-needs children. LaFleur gave Tercia de Reinas to Pompell, and D'Angelo gave Storm Up Front to the trainer. Owner Michelson, who raced a few horses at Suffolk with Pompell during the meeting, filled out some paperwork and vanned them off the track property. No money is said to have changed hands.
Five days later, on Nov. 1, Michelson is alleged to have vanned three more horses out of Suffolk (Tiny Target, Jimmy the Gov and Arrested Gatorgirl) that had been trained by Wayne Sargent. Pompell allegedly told Sargent the horses were going to CANTER. Again, the horses were said to have been donated at no cost.
On Sunday, Nov. 2, a CANTER volunteer was tipped off that some Thoroughbreds were en route to the notorious auction at New Holland where “killer buyers” have been operating for years. CANTER notified Sam Elliott, vice president of racing for Suffolk Downs, and he made arrangements the following day with the auction company to buy the five racehorses for $2,700, with financial assistance from the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. The horses were subsequently placed with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
How the horses went from supposedly being donated to a Boy Scout ranch or to the CANTER program and ending up in the kill pen destined for slaughter is where the story gets a bit fuzzy. Pompell and Michelson told the Paulick Report they donated the horses at no cost to a horse trader named Dave Costa, who owns Chipaway Stables in Acushnet, Mass. Costa, however, said he paid Michelson for the horses and intended to send them to his farm in Florida, where he hoped to sell them as polo horses in the toney Wellington area of Palm Beach County.
Costa said he sent the horses to New Holland to “overnight” before someone he hired would drive them to Florida. Costa changed his mind when he got a call from the van driver who said someone was willing to pay $1,500 for the five horses. The new owner then sold them by the pound to the auction company and put them in the kill pen, the area designated for horses not being auctioned off but sent directly to the Canadian slaughterhouse.
That's where they were when Elliott of Suffolk Downs rescued them. When track management put the story together, Pompell and Michelson were notified that Suffolk Downs was exercising its right to exclude them from the property. LeFleur, D'Angelo and Sargent have also been excluded.
“Suffolk Downs did me dirty,” Pompell said when contacted by the Paulick Report. “CANTER put me on to three horses that were owned by Wayne Sargent. They said to take them and give them to Costa and make them into polo ponies. The horses looked like they hadn't been fed, hadn't been cleaned. Those stalls had at least a half a inch of shit on the ground. When we took the horses from Sargent he was happy. Then Suffolk accused me of sending horses to the killers that I had no knowledge of. Costa is a legitimate horse dealer and trainer. These horses did not go to no killers. We gave the horses to Costa. I will not kill a horse for anybody for any money.
“I was doing a favor to Sargent,” she said. “He pretty near begged us to take the horses.”
Michelson insists he received no money from Costa when he turned the five horses over to him. “I never sold them nothing,” he told the Paulick Report. “I'm 80 years old. I've raced horses, my father and grandfather raced horses. We are not in the killer business. My father was on the board of the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) for 25 years. We've never had a citation for abusing animals.”
Costa said he did pay Michelson for the horses, but wouldn't disclose the amount. “He got a little money, but he didn't get much,” Costa said.” I bought them as polo prospects, and dropped them off at the (New Holland) sale barn, where they were supposed to be picked up and driven to Florida. But the kid who was going to haul them off sold them.”
Costa claimed that he had never heard the term “kill pen” before. “All this is a bunch of b.s.,” he said. “What's a kill pen? I've seen pigs in that pen, cattle, saddle horses. It was the only pen available, and the guys receiving cattle said to put them in that pen. The horses may have even been marked to keep them out of the sale.”
No matter how the horses wound up in the kill pen, hours away from the final ride of their lives, one thing seems certain: Suffolk Downs is serious about enforcing the anti-slaughter rules adopted under the leadership of Richard Fields, who bought controlling interest in the track last year. The policy was a bold move that a handful of other tracks, including those owned by Magna Entertainment, are adopting.
Pompell and Michelson have been banned from the property, effective immediately, as were the three other trainers, even though they may have believed the horses were going to be used for legitimate purposes.
“Regrettably, for the second time this year we have had a violation of our anti-slaughter policy and we intend to exercise our rights to restrict the access to our property by individuals involved,” said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer for Suffolk Downs. “These horses were sold with deliberate disregard for their ultimate disposition. They didn't end up at the auction months after they left here but hours later. There are lots of different stories, but the individuals involved should have known better.
“Both Suffolk Downs and the state of Massachusetts expect that the people who stable here will adhere to standards of decency and will uphold their obligation to the animals in their care,” Tuttle said. “The vast majority of the Suffolk Downs horsemen work with us and with accredited retirement programs to ensure safe and healthy second careers for their athletes.”
Michelson didn't seem bothered by the ban, saying, “I wouldn't race there again if they paid me to come.”
Copyright © 2008, The Paulick Report
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