10/07/2004 11:00PM

U.S. Gold's 'rescue' was almost his demise


LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Iowa-based Thoroughbred owner Maggi Moss retired her former claimer U.S. Gold to Blazing Saddles Farm in Randolph, Mass., she believed she had rescued him.

The now 9-year-old gelding ran 100 times in his career, winning 21 races and more than $513,000 for a variety of owners, including Moss. When she saw that U.S. Gold was losing in cheap claiming company at Monmouth this summer, Moss arranged to buy him and retire him.

Little did Moss know that a week after she thought the horse had begun his new life as a trail horse, U.S. Gold was headed for a slaughter auction. Luckily, the rescue group CANTER New England bought him for $350 and sent him to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's facility in Lexington, Ky.

Moss, an attorney, is still investigating how U.S. Gold ended up at auction after she says she was assured that he "would have a home for life" at Blazing Saddles. But she has already learned one hard lesson: Owners seeking to retire horses should deal with facilities that have a verifiable record.

"Do not just follow the backside chatter," Moss said.

Moss said three people in New Jersey, including an assistant trainer at Monmouth, recommended Blazing Saddles. When she called Blazing Saddles operator Amy Mullins, Moss said, "I was told she had a riding stable and he'd go on trail rides and have a great life. I felt very good about it and secure that he'd found a good home."

Moss did not visit Blazing Saddles, and the fact that no one ever asked her to make a donation or pay board for the horse's upkeep did not raise any red flags.

"It's not an excuse," Moss said. "But I'm in Iowa. I run 40 horses all over the country. I'm a partner in a law firm, and I don't even get to watch all of my horses run. I had a naive good faith in horse people having a common interest in what happens to these horses."

Mullins did not respond to a message seeking comment, and subsequent calls to Blazing Saddles went unanswered. Moss said Mullins told her she gave the horse to "a woman named Madeleine" and didn't know how he had ended up at auction.

Ellen O'Brien of CANTER New England had sent a representative to the Crowley Horse Auction in Agawam, Mass., fearing that the close of the nearby Northampton fair would send bottom-level Thoroughbreds there. O'Brien's representative spotted U.S. Gold and initially thought pleasure-horse buyers would bid on him. But when U.S. Gold was ridden into the auction ring, he stumbled badly, the rider jumped off, and interest in the gelding evaporated. CANTER New England bought him privately, minutes before he was due to ship to Texas.

O'Brien got the gelding's name off his Coggins test, a veterinary document required for sale, and soon turned up a Daily Racing Form story about Moss having retired U.S. Gold. O'Brien called Moss and told her that her "retired" horse had just been rescued again.

"If anything good has come out of this, it's a good lesson," O'Brien said. "We were at a racetrack last Saturday, and there were signs all over the place that trainers had put up saying that if you want to retire a horse, work through a reputable group like CANTER or the TRF. When you retire a horse to 'a good home,' it takes some sleuthing and time to determine if it's a match. The TRF is available to any horse retiring from racing. There are CANTER affiliates at tracks around the country, and there are other programs for horses who are sound enough to be retrained for a new career."

Moss isn't letting the issue drop. "I can't say I'm at the bottom of this issue yet, but I believe there's something going on and that this kind of thing is more routine than we thought," she said. "I'm planning to turn over what I find to the Massachusetts fraud investigators and appropriate government authorities and law enforcement to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Farm manager of the year named

Gus Koch, a longtime manager at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., has been named farm manager of the year by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club. In Koch's tenure, Claiborne has foaled 18 Eclipse Award winners.

Koch, 58, started at Claiborne in 1978 as an assistant manager. He began his career in Thoroughbred breeding in the late 1960's with Charles Kenney at Stoner Creek Stud.

"To be recognized by your peers is pretty special," said Koch.

* Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's Darley organization has privately purchased freshman sire Rossini (Miswaki-Touch of Greatness, by Hero's Honor), sire of Group 3 winners Tournedos and Golden Legacy, and will move him from Ireland to Darley at Jonabell in Lexington, Ky. His fee hasn't been set.

* Royal Academy, winner of the 1990 Breeders' Cup Mile, got his 100th stakes winner as a sire last weekend when Beret won the listed Indian Maid Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hawthorne. Royal Academy, who stands for the Coolmore organization, has had 16 stakes winners worldwide in 2004.