"These horses were not intended for that purpose," said Ben Warren, owner of Warren's Thoroughbreds in Hemet, Calif. "I'll take them back right now if that's what people think."
He said he gave the horses to an individual he identified as Dave Quinn, who told him he was taking them to a ranch in Riverside, Calif.
Warren said Quinn told him he wanted the foals of the broodmares, who are pregnant, to prepare them for sale as racehorses, and the stallions for future breeding. Quinn transported the first group of horses by truck July 27 and the rest two days later, Warren said.
"He lied to me, plain and simple," Warren said. "I thought they were going to good homes. And I'll tell you another thing. If those horses went to Arizona, they didn't go legally, because none of them had a Coggins Certificate."
That certificate is a United States Department of Agriculture document required for interstate shipping that proves a horse has been tested negatively for Equine Infectious Anemia.
A Southern California horse retirement facility, Tranquility Farm of Tehachapi, Calif., is trying to buy back the animals privately from Quinn, who has them in a pen at his ranch in Phoenix, before he takes them to auction.
Priscilla Clark, president of Tranquility, wants to purchase the horses before they go to bid. She said those that don't sell will wind up going to Mexico for slaughter.
Clark has been raising money through donations and locating new homes for the horses, and plans to begin purchasing as many as possible Aug. 5. She said Warren's farm manager is putting together identifications on the mares, including to which stallions they are in foal. She plans to post that information on the facility's Web site, www.tranquilityfarmtbs.org.
Warren said he has 525 horses at his farms, including about 140 mares and more than 20 stallions. He doesn't sell his horses, he said, so he tries to give away the ones he doesn't think can make it at the racetrack. Some of those he gives away end up at the racetrack, anyway, while others become jumpers or riding horses, he said. He was referred to Quinn, he noted, by a contact at Santa Anita who knew Warren was trying to cull his herd.
"I've got 115 yearlings, 115 weanlings, and 142 more babies coming," Warren explained. "I can get 30 stalls at Del Mar, 36 at Santa Anita. If you can't get stalls, you can't race them."
By giving many of them away, he at least stands to collect California breeders' awards, he reasoned.
Besides the lack of opportunities to race, Warren said the economic situation is making it increasingly difficult to maintain such a large operation. He said he considered a dispersal sale, but Barrett's, the region's leading horse auction site, told him it would cost $220,000 "just to put them in the ring."
Quinn, who lives in Phoenix, was featured on a local news report Aug. 3 after a horse rescuer there informed the station of the unfolding situation. The footage included shots of many of the mares, who appeared to be well fed and in good condition.
"Anybody that knows me knows that I take good care of my horses," Warren said. "All their shots are up to date, their West Nile, everything. They are in excellent condition. I would never kill a horse. That's all I can tell you."