A Cruel Week - by Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the April 18, 2009 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

Two stories from New York made headlines last week, but the fact they were linked together by some as being indicative of the current problems existing in the Thoroughbred industry was off base.

On April 6, Aqueduct stewards scratched Gato Go Win from that day’s Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III) after the horse’s trainer, Jeff Mullins, was seen administering an oral medication while the 3-year-old colt was in the security barn prior to the race. The decision of the stewards was the proper course of action, regardless of what was in the syringe. In New York, no medication (except the diuretic Salix) may be administered on race day.

As it turned out, what Mullins had in the syringe was Air Power, a cough formula manufactured by Finish Line for more than 30 years and sold over-the-counter in tack shops everywhere. A company representative said Air Power contains honey, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera, menthol, oil of eucalyptus, lemon juice, and ethyl alcohol.

Mullins admitted he made a mistake, which is true, considering nothing would have been said had he been racing in a state that does not have race-day detention barns, or had he administered the herbal elixir at his barn earlier in the day.

In this case, the security barn system worked, the horse was scratched, and Mullins learned a valuable lesson.

A few days later, authorities seized 177 horses at Ernie Paragallo’s Center Brook Farm near Climax, N.Y. The raid was conducted shortly after it was revealed in a New York Times article that four horses Paragallo apparently gave away months ago were rescued from a kill pen while awaiting transport to a slaughterhouse in Canada. A representative of a horse rescue agency said the four horses were malnourished and infested with lice and worms. One mare had a leg wound and torn vulva; another suffered from strangles.

The horses at the farm are now under the care of the Columbia Greene Humane Society, whose president, Ron Perez, told the Associated Press every horse was underweight.

On April 10, Paragallo was arrested and charged with 22 counts of animal cruelty. He was led from the Coxsackie Town Court wearing handcuffs and agreed to transfer ownership of 67 of the horses to the Humane Society.

When Paragallo entered the Thoroughbred game in 1991, he was a prime example of the type of new owner the industry continues to seek. He was young (now 51), energetic, and enthusiastic. He had the money to play, and play he did, first as a pinhooker, and later as an owner and breeder.

Paragallo’s Paraneck Stable bought a colt by Unbridled for $200,000 at the 1994 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale. The following March, the colt was hammered down to Hiroshi Fujita at the Barretts’ auction of 2-year-olds in training for $1.4 million, then a world record. But the owner kicked the horse back after a bone chip was discovered in a front ankle. True to his brash nature, Paragallo said he would race the colt and prove everyone wrong. Which he did. Unbridled’s Song won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), and after taking the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Wood Memorial (gr. II), was the favorite for the 1996 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), in which he finished fifth.

Today, Paragallo still owns half of Unbridled’s Song, a highly successful stallion who stands at Taylor Made Farm near Nicholasville, Ky., for a $125,000 stud fee. The sale of one season in the horse would take care of the purchase of hay, grain, veterinary supplies, and whatever else is needed to care for the neglected horses at Paragallo’s farm.

Officials in New York took quick action to terminate Paragallo’s ability to race in the state. Other states in which he is licensed should do the same.

Like Mullins, Paragallo said he takes full responsibility. Mullins made a mistake and paid the price; his horse was scratched. The same cannot be said for Paragallo; his actions were unconscionable and not easily forgiven.

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