State regulators in New York have begun an investigation into undernourished mares that were given away by Thoroughbred owner and breeder Ernie Paragallo.
The New York State Racing and Wagering Board will examine the circumstances under which the horses were given away by Center Brook Farm in upstate New York, as well as ownership questions of the horses that have arisen. The investigation includes a subpoena that will require Paragallo to answer questions about his knowledge of the matter.
Racing board chairman John Sabini also called on the state’s Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund to halt any incentive award payments to Center Brook Farm, Paraneck Stable, or Paragallo while the investigation is under way.
“As New York’s racing regulator, the board has a duty to protect the public’s interests and to ensure that its licensees are of fit character," racing board spokesman Joseph Mahoney said in a written statement.
The board has broad powers over trainers and owners like Paragallo who it licenses to do business in the state.
The move comes after the New York Times reported April 4 that the neglected former racehorses and mares were among 20 horses given away by Paragallo four months ago from his Greene County farm located a half-hour south of Albany.
“It is my total responsibility,” Paragallo was quoted as saying April 4 at Aqueduct. "I should have made sure who the hell I was dealing with. It's a major screw-up. I don't feel very good about it."
In a statement issued April 8 concerning Paragallo and reports that trainer Jeff Mullins administered a substance to one of his horses on race day in a separate incident, Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said: "Two recent incidents in New York are very troubling to the hundreds of thousands of responsible individuals who derive their livelihood from Thoroughbred breeding and racing and the millions of customers who participate in our game. In the case of owner Ernie Paragallo, the alleged abdication of responsibility for the welfare of one's horses, either directly or indirectly, is unacceptable. In both instances, should the charges prove true, authorities should move swiftly to impose the most severe penalties applicable under the circumstances.”
The Times said the mares were hundreds of pounds underweight and were infested with lice and parasites.
“They were a bag of bones, literally walking hides," Richie Baiardi, a horse transporter, told the Times. “I knew I couldn't get health certificates for them, and I didn't even think they'd make it to Florida. I didn't want to take them, but the guys working on the farm said if I didn't they were just going to die right there. They told me two had already died that morning.”
In related news, The Jockey Club board of stewards held a regularly scheduled meeting April 7 and unanimously endorsed the following statement from Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, chairman of The Jockey Club. It is being issued in the wake of the Paragallo situation.
Said Phipps: "The Jockey Club fully supports and assists law enforcement agencies, the courts, and racing regulatory authorities in the investigation of matters involving animal cruelty.
“Furthermore, pursuant to Section V, Rule 19A (4) of the Principal Rules and Requirements of The American Stud Book, The Jockey Club reserves the right to deny any or all of the privileges of The American Stud Book to any person or entity when there is a final determination by a court, an official tribunal, or an official racing body that such person has killed, abandoned, mistreated, neglected, or abused, or otherwise committed an act of cruelty to a horse.
“The Jockey Club has invoked this rule in the past and will not hesitate to do so again when appropriate. The Jockey Club maintains a long-held conviction that owners are responsible and should be held accountable for the care, well-being, and humane treatment of their Thoroughbred horses.”
In addition to Phipps, the stewards of The Jockey Club are John W. Amerman, Reynolds Bell Jr., James C. Brady, William S. Farish, Dell Hancock, Ian D. Highet, Stuart S. Janney III, and D.G. Van Clief Jr.