When Mighty Mecke broke his foot in February, his co-owners Jeff Puglisi of Puglisi Racing and trainer Steve Klesaris, decided it was time to retire the 6-year-old colt from racing and find him a new career. Through a bloodstock agent, they discovered Stillfork Farm in Ohio, and they said they were told Mighty Mecke would stand there as a stallion.
But soon after the stakes-winning bay horse was delivered to the nursery in early July, Puglisi heard from a man who said Mighty Mecke had been sold to him to race in Antigua. Puglisi and Klesaris located the horse in Florida, hired a lawyer, and launched a frantic effort to get him back. The two men succeeded, but want other owners to know the story so their retired racehorses won’t end up in a similar situation.
"I’m in shock," Klesaris said. "I still can’t believe it happened. It completely blows me away that there are people out there like this."
Klesaris, as agent for Puglisi Stables, purchased Mighty Mecke for $130,000 at the 2004 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. April sale of 2-year-olds in training. The horse captured nine races, including the Nick Shuk Memorial Stakes and the male division of the OBS Championship Stakes in 2005, and earned $271,670. But when Mighty Mecke fractured his foot, after undergoing two knee surgeries earlier in his career, Klesaris and Puglisi didn’t believe he should ever race again. And they said they and their agent, Mike Slezak, made that clear to Michele Hubbs, who was the agent in the transaction for a man she identified as Larry Reid.
In addition, according to Puglisi and Molly Jo Rosen, the racing manager for Puglisi Racing, they did some research on Stillfork Farm, looking it up on the Internet and making phone calls to "the Ohio state-bred program." The van driver, after dropping off Mighty Mecke at Stillfork, took photos of the farm and gave them to Puglisi.
"We absolutely made it clear that this horse was not a racing prospect," claimed Puglisi, who sold Mighty Mecke for $2,500.
But Puglisi got a surprise July 7, when he received an e-mail from a man in Antigua who said he had bought Mighty Mecke and wanted to know the equipment and medication the horse would need when he raced in several weeks.
An upset Puglisi said he phoned Hubbs and left messages, but she wouldn’t return his calls.
"She did talk to Mike, and she told him her deal fell through with her plans for Mecke, and she had to sell the horse because her boyfriend or husband lost his job," Puglisi said. But according to Puglisi, discussions with the various people involved in the deal indicated that Hubbs had planned, all along, to resell Mighty Mecke as a racehorse rather than stand him at Stillfork.
"It was all premeditated," claims Puglisi, who spent more than $2,500 to locate Mighty Mecke in Florida and get him returned. "I’ve got a pretty good idea that these types of things happen all the time — that these horses that should be retired are sold by their owners for breeding purposes and then they are actually being raced unbeknownst to the owner. That’s very troubling and very disturbing to me. Mighty Mecke was just days away from boarding a plane and being on his way to Antigua to race."
The Blood-Horse attempted to contact Hubbs for comment five times through telephone calls and left messages on her voice mail, but she didn’t respond.
She did answer an e-mail, writing that she should be contacted by phone.
In the future, when trying to sell or give away horses after racing them, Puglisi said he plans to exercise "more due diligence" in placing them with new owners. Mighty Mecke’s foal papers were given to Hubbs, at her request, something Puglisi won’t do again in deals involving retired runners.
With previous racehorses that Puglisi had retired and sold, he said there was a written contract that the new owners had signed, saying the animals would not run again. There was no written contract for Mighty Mecke, but Puglisi will make the document a requirement from now on before he releases a horse.
"I think the foal papers are the key to all this; they (the new owners) really only need them if the horse is going to race," Puglisi said.
Mighty Mecke is at Klesaris’ barn at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland.
"We’re trying to decide what to do with him," Puglisi said. "Right now, we’re thinking about keeping him as a pony. He’s very special to everybody on our whole team."
Klesaris said one of the solutions to make sure horses like Mighty Mecke find good homes after competing is to set up a national program in which people who own or work with racehorses including veterinarians, farriers, jockeys, grooms, and exercise riders — would make mandatory contributions to a fund to support the runners following their retirements. The money could be collected as part of licensing fees or as a small percentage of purses.
"If everybody in this game had to contribute a dollar a week, just think about the amount of money it would generate," Klesaris said. "Each state would have its own facility for the retirement of racehorses, and it would have the money to fund it."