11/01/2016 10:43AM

Maria Borell: From top of the world to underground


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The phrase “what a difference a year makes” is often a cliché, but in the case of the ex-trainer Maria Borell, oh, my, what an incredible difference only a year makes.

One year ago, Borell was the trainer of record of the top sprinter in the nation, Runhappy, who would go on to decisively win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland Racecourse on Oct. 31. The win touched off an intense public fascination with Borell, a photogenic young trainer who appeared to have come out of nowhere.

Today, Maria Borell, 33, no longer trains horses, has been charged with 43 counts of animal cruelty in Kentucky, and cannot be found by the legal authorities. In the warm light of the Sprint win, she was the subject of adoring articles and praise, but now, finding anyone to defend her is nearly as difficult as finding Borell herself.

Richard Getty, a Lexington attorney who represented Borell after she was fired as the trainer of Runhappy within hours of his Breeders’ Cup win, is among those who does not know her whereabouts. Getty withdrew a suit against Runhappy’s owner, Jim McIngvale, filed several months ago on behalf of Borell after “repeatedly attempting to get in touch with her,” he said.

“I feel terrible that it came to that point, because I think she had legitimate claims,” Getty said Tuesday. “But she just went underground.”

Very few falls in Thoroughbred racing history have been as fast and as dramatic as Borell’s descent. While public opinion was markedly on her side after she was fired – in large part due to McIngvale’s less-than-stellar reputation in the racing industry – she is now an object of scorn and derision, accused of failing to pay bills to suppliers and workers, and, most dramatically, caught up in the scandal surrounding the abandonment of 43 horses on a farm in Mercer County formerly leased by her father.

:: Runhappy boldly goes into middle distance in Dirt Mile

Her father, Charles Borell, accepted a plea deal in the case in late September and was sentenced to two years of parole and forfeited a $4,300 bond to help pay the costs of caring for the animals. A resident of Syracuse, N.Y., Charles Borell also forfeited any claims to ownership of the horses found in the farm, several of which were determined to be malnourished by Kentucky agriculture officials.

While Maria Borell’s connection to the horses has not been definitively laid out (Getty said that he believes she had “absolutely no connection” to the horses on the Mercer County farm), Borell was charged with the same 43 counts as her father. Kentucky prosecutors have said that they will not seek to extradite Borell if she is found because the charges are misdemeanors.

Shortly after being fired by McIngvale and replaced by his sister-in-law Laura Wohlers, Maria Borell did find work in Florida, training six horses for Drawing Away Stable, a racing partnership. But she was let go by Drawing Away in May, when the owner acknowledged “getting some calls” about her past. Shortly after that, an article appeared on the website US Racing that quoted former co-workers accusing Borell of mistreating her horses and walking away from contractual payments before she was hired by McIngvale.

In June, Kentucky agriculture officials seized the horses at the Mercer County farm, and the fall from grace was complete. In September, her mother posted a long defense of her daughter at the website thetruthabouttheborells.com, claiming that Maria was the victim of a concerted campaign to discredit her based on personal vendettas of people jealous of her success.

The website is no longer available.