By Laura Pugh
The sport of Thoroughbred Racing rarely ever gets to see a fairytale that has a happily-ever-after ending. Too often, the news we get to see is of breakdowns or drug violations, but that wasn’t the case with Maria Borell and Runhappy. From the King’s Bishop to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, fans followed their fairytale and were delighted when the desired ending came true. Then, in shocking fashion, the fairytale became a nightmare.
The morning after the Breeders’ Cup, Laura Wohlers — the sister-in-law of Runhappy’s owner Jim McIngvale — informed Borell that her contract had been terminated and that she would no longer be the trainer of Runhappy. Since then, things have spun wildly out of control, marring the once-beautiful image we had of Runhappy and his connections.
It has come to light, that McIngvale fired Borell without ever paying her the 10 percent commission that is typically rewarded to trainers when their horses win at the stakes level. McIngvale and his wife have since come forward, saying that they have never paid a private trainer a 10 percent stakes commission, while also accusing Borell of not properly taking care of her horses — noting that several have sores and are kept in unclean stalls.
Richard Getty, Borell’s attorney in this matter, said that these statements are completely false.
“What McIngvale and his wife said the other day, about never hiring a trainer other than privately and that they’ve never paid any 10 percent bonuses on stakes races is absolutely false. I know of other instances where they have paid trainers 10 percent on stakes races and they will appear as witnesses,” said Getty, noting that he has sent the McIngvale’s a letter demanding that Borell be paid her 10 percent.
“They need to own up to their responsibility and pay the woman (Borell).”
I know that there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes, and that not all of it is pretty. I know that people in this world exaggerate the truth and lie, but I find it absolutely appalling that people can sink this low. If proven to be true, how can lies of this magnitude be tolerated? How is it that that we allow people in this game to lie about transactions they have made in the past, in order to avoid paying for the work of another in the present?
Getty also stated that the reports of Borell not properly caring for the McIngvale’s horses are “completely false” and “absolutely not supportable,” adding that, before such comments were made, it was simply of matter of getting Borell her entitled dues. But the disparaging comments could add a whole new element to the litigation.
I had a hard time believing this comment even before Getty weighed in on the issue. If the horses were in such horrible condition, wouldn’t it have made sense to take the horses out of her care, immediately? Why would you want to allow your horses to stay in an unclean environment, where they are forced to work with sores? The fact that they stayed with her, for months, after this was noticed disqualifies the entire claim. With that in mind, it is hard to not assume that they weren’t intentionally trying to hurt Borell’s reputation, something Getty is highly unpleased with.
“I’ve told [McIngvale] that the statements [he and his wife] made were not truthful. They were disparaging and damaging to my client’s reputation,” Getty said, adding that if there were any more disparaging remarks that there would be more litigation.
Getty, like many others, believes that the termination of Borell was unjust, saying that Borell is the one who made the horse what he is today, and “why would you fire somebody who took a mediocre horse and turned it into a champion?”
Could petty jealousy be the answer, I wonder? After all, Wohlers was the trainer on record for Runhappy’s first two starts and the best she could manage was a maiden victory. Maria Borell, a trainer with no previous victories to her name, was then able to step in and turn Runhappy into a champion racehorse.
Even though McIngvale has stated his reasons for firing Borell and has maintained that he was correct in doing so, Getty believes he has enough evidence and witnesses to prove McIngvale wrong.
“Let’s put it this way, I have the witnesses lined up — other trainers that will testify that this is standard within the industry, that she’s entitled to. I also have a couple people lined up to contradict McIngvale’s statement of never paying a private trainer a 10 percent commission on a stakes race, or any race.”
It would seem that the McIngvale’s have dug themselves into a very deep hole. First, by single-handedly destroying the best story American racing had to offer. Secondly, by contradicting themselves — stating the termination was planned, only to come back and say the decision had only been made the Sunday after the Breeders Cup. Thirdly, by making disparaging remarks to the trainer that turned their maiden winner into a champion. And, finally, by making seemingly false claims about how they have paid past trainers in an apparent attempt to get out of paying Borell her rightful dues.
Right now, everything rests in the hands of the lawyers. I, for one, hope that Borell is vindicated for her unjust termination.