Updated on 05/24/2013 8:44AM

Horsemen suffer heavy losses in Oklahoma tornado


The tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., at almost 200 miles an hour Monday claimed not only the lives of more than 20 adults and children, but it also wiped out the Celestial Acres Training Center, home to both Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse operations, killing scores of horses.

The training center was in the direct path of the storm, bordering the southern part of Oklahoma City.

"This thing was a little over a mile wide and traveled on the ground 11 miles," said Betty Raper, who with her husband, Dee, operate Belle Mere Farm in nearby Norman, Okla., about three miles south of Moore. "It just gives you the chills."

Trainer Mark Lee had a small Thoroughbred operation at Celestial Acres at the time the storm hit Monday afternoon.

"I had 12 head, and they're all gone," Lee said Tuesday. Lee lives about six miles from Celestial Acres.

"I showed up a few minutes after it happened," he said. "There were mangled horses everywhere. I had one guy in the barn trying to let horses go when it hit. He survived. He dug himself out of the rubble. I have no idea how."

Lee said that 20 to 25 horses in a barn on the north side of the training center survived. He said that the structure simply had its roof torn off and that the animals were okay.

Randy Weidner, a trainer racing Quarter Horses at nearby Remington Park in Oklahoma City, was not as fortunate. The horses he had stabled at Celestial Acres were victims of the storm, according to Betty Raper.

"I know of one young man from Iowa that lost nine head, his truck, and his trailer," she said, referring to Weidner. "It was a very devastating situation for anyone that was there. From what I understand, he walked away with no injury. The clothes on his back is all he has today."

Celestial Acres Training Center is one of two businesses on a 160-acre tract of land owned by Glenn Orr and his son Tom, according to Tony Vann, a spokesman for the family. The other business is Orr Family Farm, a tourist destination featuring a petting zoo, trains, and a zip-line. The training center rents out stalls. Tom Orr races horses and has some runners based at Lone Star Park near Dallas.

Vann said there was no loss of human life on the Orr properties. The number of horses stabled at the facility and their status could not be confirmed, he said late Monday, but some trainers speculated there were at least 80 Thoroughbreds or Quarter Horses there. Raper said she heard that as many as 75 horses in the Moore area may have died.

Lee said that there are mare-and-foal farms bordering Celestial Acres, and he believed that most of those horses were victims of the storm. Lee said a large number of runners based at Celestial Acres were Quarter Horses competing at the Remington Park meet.

Remington canceled its final five races on Sunday afternoon when the storm system was building and severe-weather sirens began sounding in Oklahoma City.

"They were calling for possible tornado outbreaks at any time," said Remington spokesman Dale Day. "No one knew where the outbreak was going to begin. As it turned out, it didn’t hit our part of Oklahoma City."

Day said Remington planned to race as scheduled Friday.

Raper said that rain continued to pour down in the Moore and Norman areas Tuesday. She and Day said Moore was “sealed off” and exits serving the community off Interstate 35 had been blockaded.

"They’re recommending if you don’t have to travel I-35, to take alternate routes," Raper said. "There’s still a lot of debris, and emergency vehicles need to go in there."

Vann said some of the debris from the storm has been found as far north as Tulsa, Okla., about 100 miles from Moore. The storm system itself had extended south into the North Texas town of Denton as of Monday night, and by 2 p.m. on Tuesday, heavy rains and winds were pummeling communities surrounding Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Charitable fund for horsmen

The organizations that represent Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse interests in Oklahoma have jointly established a charitable fund to assist horsemen affected by the tornado. Donations will go directly to horsemen, according to a statement distributed late Tuesday by the Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association.

"There are many horsemen who have been affected by this tragedy and have lost everything they own," the statement said. "Both horsemen's organizations, along with Remington Park in Oklahoma City, are working together in coordinating relief to horsemen that have been affected by the storm."

Credit card and debit card donations can be made by calling the Quarter Horse association at (405) 216-0440. Checks can be made payable to the TRAO Benevolence Fund or the OQHRA Benevolence Fund, with the memo line to read 2013 Tornado. Donations can be sent to TRAO at 2620 NW Expressway, Suite A; Oklahoma City, Okla., 73112, or to the OQHRA, P.O. Box 2907, Edmond, Okla., 73083.