12/26/2008 1:00AM

Two horse owners victims of murder


A husband and wife who were among nine people killed in a shooting and fire at a home in Covina, Calif., on Wednesday were Thoroughbred owners and breeders that were clients of trainer David Bernstein, Bernstein said on Friday.

Joseph Ortega, 80, and Alicia Ortega, 70, were hosting a party at their home when their former son-in-law, Bruce Pardo, arrived at the home and began shooting at the more than two dozen partygoers, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. Pardo, who had dressed as Santa Claus to gain entrance to the Ortegas' home, then doused the home with flammable material and fled as it caught fire. Several hours later, Pardo was later found dead of what officials say was a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Sylmar, Calif., about 40 miles from Covina.

Nine bodies were found in the Covina home, according to reports. Police officials said that the bodies were so badly burned that dental records were needed to identify the deceased.

Bernstein said he was notified of the incident early Thursday. "It takes your breath away," Bernstein said.

"We've been personal friends for a long time, close to 30 years," Bernstein said. "They were longtime customers. They were breeders briefly. We had a filly named Distant Dawn that they used as a broodmare and another named Masterful Dawn."

Bernstein said Joseph Ortega enjoyed following the races, often watching replays on the Internet. Covina is approximately 12 miles from Santa Anita Park.

"They claimed horses when they could," Bernstein said. "They were huge racing fans. They loved the races."