Horse breeder charged with cruelty

April 10, 2009 1:05:26 PM PDT
A prominent thoroughbred breeder who once owned a Kentucky Derby favorite was charged Friday with cruelty to animals, two days after authorities seized 177 malnourished horses at his Hudson Valley farm. Ernie Paragallo was charged with 22 counts of violating New York's Agriculture and Markets law that prohibits torturing or injuring an animal or failing to provide sustenance, New York state police dispatcher Terri Gallagher said.

The 51-year-old Paragallo was arraigned Friday before Coxsackie Town Justice Thomas Fori and sent to the Greene County Jail in lieu of $5,000 cash or $10,000 bond bail.

He did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone after his arrest.

Paragallo, the owner of 1996 Derby favorite Unbridled's Song who finished fifth, was arrested after driving upstate from his Long Island home to be questioned by investigators about the malnourished horses found Wednesday on his Center Brook farm. The farm is in Greene County, 20 miles south of Albany.

"It wasn't knowing neglect," Paragallo told The Associated Press earlier Friday. "Did I try and harm any of those horses? Absolutely not. Did some of them come up skinny? Absolutely. Was it mismanagement? Absolutely. I'm not shying away from it. But I didn't abuse them."

State police and animal protection organizations seized the horses at his upstate farm. Veterinarians examined the animals and found all of them to be in varying stages of malnutrition.

The horses remain on the farm under the supervision of the Columbia Greene Humane Society, which has brought in hay and grain for them. Paragallo agreed Friday to transfer ownership of 67 of the horses to the humane society for future adoption.

Ron Perez, president of the humane society, said that in addition to being malnourished, many of the horses were infested with internal and external parasites, suffering from untreated lacerations, and in need of hoof care. He said broodmares were kept in stalls without proper bedding.

"This is a sad situation for the animals," Perez said. "The way he let them go is absolutely unconscionable."

Paragallo blamed the horses' conditions on miscalculations in the amount of feed and hay purchased for the farm over the winter.

"We probably underfed them the amount of feed they were supposed to get," he said.

Paragallo said he had even more horses, 240 to 250, the previous winter on the 500-acre farm, which has two 83-acre paddocks.

"It's hard to keep track of every horse when they're turned out in those big paddocks," he said.

Paragallo said he hadn't visited the farm in at least nine months.

Unbridled's Song won the 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and in '96 won the Florida Derby and the Wood Memorial to earn his status as Kentucky Derby favorite. He also owned Artax, the 1999 Eclipse winner as top sprinter.

Meanwhile, the New York Racing Association revoked Paragallo's credentials for NYRA's three tracks - Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct, where his daughters' stable has 40 horses. The move prohibits Paragallo from the tracks' backstretch and paddock, but not its grandstand or other areas open to patrons.

Paragallo is licensed with the state Racing and Wagering Board as the authorized agent for Paraneck Stable, which he founded but later turned over to his daughters Jennifer and Kristen in 2005, when the state revoked his owner's license for financial irresponsibility.

NYRA officials said no member of the Paragallo family or current Paraneck employee are allowed to operate the stable. The Paraneck horses currently stabled at Aqueduct's barns will be allowed to remain at the track. According to the Daily Racing Form, three Paraneck horses set to race at Aqueduct were scratched this week and five others will be scratched between Friday and Wednesday.

The Racing and Wagering Board has launched its own investigation into Paragallo. Agency spokesman Joe Mahoney said the board is looking into whether it appears Paragallo has been acting as the stable's owner, despite having his owners license revoked four years ago.

"The question we have is, who is the real owner or owners of Paraneck Stable?" Mahoney said.

"I never said I was an owner," Paragallo said Friday. "What am I an owner of? I never stated I was an owner.

Paragallo has agreed, at the board's suggestion, to surrender his authorized agent's license next week, Mahoney said.