Lyon: Love Me Only Lawsuit Was Last Resort

by | 10.21.2014 | 12:43am
Jane Lyon of Summer Wind Farm testifies in lawsuit against previous owners and consignor of Love Me Only

Jane Lyon didn't want to sue Eaton Sales and Coolmore Stud partners in November 2011 after being told by veterinarians the mare she'd paid $2.1 million for a week earlier was suffering from laminitis. She just wanted her money back.

That's what an attorney for Lyon told a jury in Fayette County Circuit Court in Lexington, Ky., on Monday in the opening day of a trial hearing the case of Love Me Only, purchased by Frank and Jane Lyon's Summer Wind Farm for $2.1 million in foal to European Horse of the Year Sea the Stars at the 2011 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. Reiley McDonald's Eaton Sales sold the 3-year-old half sister to leading sire Giant's Causeway as agent for entities owned by Coolmore Stud's John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.

The Lyons' attorney, Jay Ingle of the Jackson Kelly law firm, told the jury in his opening argument that this was “a case of how business should be done in the Thoroughbred industry and a case of how it was done.” He alleged McDonald fraudulently misled Jane Lyon and Mark Moloney (her son-in-law and farm manager) about Love Me Only's physical condition and her breeding history when they looked at the horse on Keeneland sale grounds.

Ingle said Love Me Only received a daily dose of the anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone for the four days (and a double dose on one of the days) leading up to and including her Nov. 8, 2011, sale date. Ingle said the administration of the drug was done because of the strong likelihood that Love Me Only already had contracted laminitis, something expert witnesses for the plaintiffs would confirm, he added.

Ingle said McDonald indicated during a deposition that the mare needed the medication because of the number of times she had been shown to prospective buyers. Ingle pointed out, however, based on treatment records, that Love Me Only received her first dose before her first showing. She was shown 108 times over four days, according to Eaton Sale records.

Keeneland's Medication Policy recommends no more than two anti-inflammatories be administered to sale horses.

The Lyons asked Keeneland to rescind the sale but were told the window of opportunity had already closed, based on the company's Conditions of Sale requiring notification of intent to rescind within 48 hours of the close of a session in which the horse was sold. Discussions between Moloney and McDonald also were unsatisfactory to the buyers. Finally, Jane Lyon's husband, a successful businessman and philanthropist from a prominent Arkansas family, wrote a letter directly to Coolmore Stud owner Magnier asking that the horse be returned and purchase price refunded. When Magnier failed to respond affirmatively, the Lyons sued Love Me Only's owners, Ashford Stud and Eaton Sales in January 2012 and now seek to return the mare, have their purchase price refunded, and receive punitive damages.

Clem Murphy was present at the trial on behalf of the owners of Love Me Only, alongside Ashford Stud's Dermot Ryan and Reiley McDonald of Eaton Sales.

Frost Brown Todd attorney Paul Sullivan, who made the opening argument for the defendants, said plaintiffs would be unable to demonstrate “clear and convincing evidence” that fraud was committed. He said Love Me Only received the anti-inflammatory that he compared to aspirin because she was being shown repeatedly on a “hard gravel surface” at Keeneland and that it was normal to give the drug to sale horses. In fact, Sullivan said, the practice was something consignors of Summer Wind Farm yearlings had routinely done. Citing the Keeneland Conditions of Sale that suggest buyers thoroughly inspect possible purchases and that horses are sold – with certain exceptions – on an “as is” basis, Sullivan said, “When you buy it, you buy it and shut up.” If the Lyons felt anyone was to blame, he added, “They only need to look in the mirror. They know what the Conditions of Sale are.”

Sullivan also pointed out that Love Me Only, who eventually recovered from the lameness she experienced after the sale and produced live foals in 2012 and 2013, has been anything but a failure. “She was purchased to be bred and she couldn't have delivered any better,” Sullivan said. It was pointed out that Storm the Stars, the colt Love Me Only was carrying at time of purchase, was a close second in a recent 2-year-old maiden race at Newmarket in England.

After showing a recent video of Love Me Only taken at Summer Wind Farm, Sullivan added, “I suggest to you this is not a horse that is at death's door.”

The Lyons family, who operate Summer Wind Farm as a commercial breeding operation, looked to make one addition to their high-end broodmare band when they started going through the 2011 Keeneland November catalogue, Jane Lyon said during sworn testimony. Lyon said the family shortened their list of prospective purchases to just two horses: Love Me Only and Delta Princess, dam of champion Royal Delta who eventually sold for $2.6 million to Frank Stronach's Adena Springs.

When they went to the Chanteclair consignment that was selling Delta Princess as part of the Palides Investment dispersal, the company's president, Ron Wallace, told Jane Lyons and Moloney that the 12-year-old mare had a “physical issue” and had been treated with phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory.

Lyons and Moloney ordered a veterinary examination of Delta Princess and they decided to take her off their short list. Delta Princess was euthanized in August 2014 due to a degenerative stifle condition.

Lyons and Moloney went to the Eaton Sale barn to look at Love Me Only. Jane Lyon said she asked the filly's handler if Love Me Only “had any problems” and was told “no.” McDonald then approached them, Lyon said, saying, “Great mare, in foal on one cover. Carrying a colt.”

They decided not to have a full veterinary inspection as they had done with Delta Princess.

Ingle, in his opening statement, said another potential buyer did retain a veterinarian, Dr. Bart Barber, to examine Love Me Only. Barber wrote “no lameness” and “no history of medication other than Regu-Mate” in his report on that examination. It was the only veterinary examination resulting from the 108 showings of Love Me Only, Ingle said.

Lyon said Moloney asked McDonald why Love Me Only was bred so late in the year (May 3) for a first-year broodmare. Lyon testified that she overheard McDonald saying the reason for the late cover was that Love Me Only suffered a “training injury.”

It was only after the sale that Summer Wind's new owners learned Love Me Only had also been bred to Danehill Dancer in February 2011, information that was not disclosed to Keeneland or McDonald by Ashford Stud, which entered her in the sale on behalf of Magnier, Tabor and Smith.

Lyon said the decision to try and return Love Me Only was troubling and the first time she had ever attempted to do so. “I was very upset because I get very attached to my mares, and she was a prize to me,” Lyon said to Ingle's co-counsel William Hoskins during her testimony. The decision was made, she said, because it “looked like this would be a bad investment.”

Lyon said if she knew that Love Me Only had been treated with phenylbutazone, she would have ordered the same veterinary inspection done on Delta Princess.

Under cross-examination by Sullivan's co-counsel, Barry Hunter, Lyon said, “I'm not saying it is always wrong (to give phenylbutazone) to sale horses.”

Often talking directly to the jurors, Lyon was composed but combative in answering Hunter's questions. When asked how often she is at the farm, Lyon cited her husband's serious illness and off-and-on hospitalization out of state, adding, “Don't imply I don't care about my mares.”

At another point in the cross-examination, she said to Hunter, “That sounds like a trick question to me.” She admitted after being led through several clauses in Keeneland's Conditions of Sale that “I have been made acutely aware of them” during the litigation process. She was also reminded by Hunter that her husband, who has signed contracts to buy and sell numerous businesses, received an MBA from Harvard University.

The trial, estimated to last six days, continues on Tuesday, with testimony on behalf of the plaintiffs from laminitis specialist Dr. William Moyer of Texas A&M, one of many expert witnesses who will be testifying.

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