Three of the five trainers that were banned from Suffolk Downs last fall for violating its zero tolerance policy toward horse slaughter have been reinstated and will be allowed to saddle horses for the East Boston, Mass. track’s 2009 season, which runs May 2-Nov. 7.
The trainers--Wayne Sargent Jr., Gerry LaFleur, and Tony D’Angelo--last November turned over five of their retired Thoroughbreds to Pam Pompell, who assured them she was taking them to a farm to be retrained for children’s camps or other types of programs.
In reality, Pompell and another trainer, Al Michelson, apparently transported the horses to a farm in Southeastern Massachusetts. Less than a day later, the horses were discovered going through the ring at a small auction house in New York that is known for selling horses to “killer buyers” who will re-sell them for slaughter.
“Gail Vacca, who rescues horses from auctions where they’re going to head to slaughter was the one that tipped off us that (the horses) were down there,” said Chip Tuttle, Suffolk’s chief operating officer. “We bought them out of the auction and donated them to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. So at the time, we made the decision to ban all five trainers.
“But we never said it was a lifetime ban. We never published a policy or put out a press release. We started this policy more than two years ago, and no one even knew about it for a year. We weren’t looking for attention on this; it was just our internal policy.”
Tuttle said over the course of the winter, Sargent, LaFleur, and D’Angelo, who were also refused stalls at Tampa Bay Downs because of the incident, had personally asked to be reinstated at Suffolk, but were denied. It was only after the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association came up with an official proposal for why Suffolk’s decision should be reversed that the officials reconsidered.
“The New England HBPA really took up the cause for these three guys,” said Tuttle. “They said they were duped, that they shouldn’t have been duped, and that the circumstances were extenuating. (In the proposal), it said the trainers would each write letters acknowledging they violated the policy, promising that they wouldn’t do it again, and donating $1,000 to Canter New England and the TRF.”
After significant discussions with the trainers and the HBPA, the proposal was accepted.
“The decision was difficult, but none of these guys had an issue or a record of this in the past,” Tuttle explained. “The story that all three told was consistent, so we decided to let them back in.
“With the New England HBPA, we have stepped up our efforts to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and that every trainer on the backstretch understands whose responsibility this is,” Tuttle added.
He explained how the HBPA had developed its own video that every trainer will be shown as part of an orientation program. Suffolk has also standardized a bill of sale to be used on the backstretch so there are no more misunderstandings in horse transactions.
“There’s no transfer of horses without this bill of sale, and it spells out that the horses cannot be transported to or caused to be transported to one of these auction facilities,” he said.
Tuttle hopes all trainers will from now on comply with the track’s retirement placement program, which takes unwanted horses at the end of each meet. The program humanely retired more than 40 horses to different organizations from its racing stables last year.