None of his connections wanted Beau Jaque to go to slaughter, but that is where he was headed, peering from a trailer owned by a representative of a Canadian meat company parked at the New Holland Auction lot. Photo credit: Sonja Meadows
Beau Jaques started 37 races in his short life. The son of Straight Man and Beautiful Beau won less than $124,000 in his career. His track record may have been unremarkable. His death last spring at a Canadian slaughterhouse was a moment of truth for Pennsylvania’s horseracing industry.
All the safeguards ostensibly meant to protect racehorses from the slaughterhouse had failed. Beau Jaques and numerous other racehorses from Penn National, Mountaineer and Charles Town race tracks were, police charge, sold or given to Kelsey Elva Lefever of Honey Brook, Chester County, who promised that she would retrain the horses for other purposes, and that she would find safe homes for them. Kevin Patterson, Beau Jaques’ owner and trainer, had given the horse to Lefever last spring, along with money for his care and some food.
Lefever, who has shown horses locally, has been charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors. A preliminary hearing for the 23 year-old was postponed from February 6 to February 21. There could be more than 100 horses involved in her scheme, which allegedly involved selling horses to a buyer representing Viande Richelieu, a Canadian meat company. Lefever allegedly took the horses to the New Holland auction, but they were never put up for auction. Instead, she sold them directly to the hauler representing the Canadian firm. Former racehorses that enter the auction ring at New Holland are more likely to be detected by humane agents and others.
Make Your Slow Racehorse Count!
According to the Affidavit of Probable Cause seeking the arrest of Kelsey Lefever, various trainers and others at Penn National Racetrack had recommended Lefever to Patterson. She arrived equipped with pens, coffee mugs, etc., promoting her business. They were emblazoned with the slogan “Make Your Slow Racehorse Count!” Lefever marketed herself as someone who would retrain retired racehorses and find good homes for them, promising that she would never sell any animal to the meat buyers.
On May 13, 2011 Patterson turned Beau Jaques over to Lefever at one of the barns at Penn National Racetrack. Just three days later, Beau Jaques was discovered by a woman from a rescue organization called Animal’s Angels. He was in a trailer along with three other horses in the parking lot of the New Holland Auction. The woman, Sonja Meadows, flipped the lips of each of the horses and recorded their tattoos. The horses were subsequently identified as Beau Jaques, Lion R Ess VP, Magickylie and Marek’s Czech. The three horses that were on the truck with Beau Jaques had, the affidavit says, been turned over to Lefever by Mark Bliss, another trainer at Penn National. He too believed Lefever’s promises that she would retrain the horses and find good homes for them.
The owner of the trailer in which the horses were discovered, Bruce Rotz of Shippensburg, is a contract kill buyer for Viande Richelieu, well-known to activists who monitor the New Holland auction. He admitted to police that he had bypassed the auction ring before, presumably because the horses involved had also been racehorses and would have been identified as such once in the auction ring.
Lefever’s scheme began to unravel after Meadows followed up on the tattoos, and Patterson was contacted by another rescue organization. Patterson contacted the police, and Lefever’s mendacity was revealed; then she allegedly pleaded with friends and acquaintances to corroborate various stories that would make her appear blameless. Some of the statements she purportedly made to these people range from appallingly callous to obscene.
Retirement with Dignity
Pennsylvania’s racing industry has made progress in ensuring that racehorses are properly cared for in their retirement. Nationwide there is a network of racehorse retirement and retraining facilities aimed at providing safe landings for horses at the ends of their racing careers. Penn National Gaming (owner of Penn National and Charles Town race tracks) and Parx (formerly Philadelphia Park) have policies intended to protect horses from what happened to Beau Jaques.
In April, 2010, Penn National Gaming announced that severe sanctions would be placed on trainers and owners who violated the organization’s policies. Chris McErlean, Vice President of Penn National Gaming said at that time that “essentially, if we are given credible information regarding horses that are sold for purposes of slaughter, then we have the right to take actions against the individuals—trainer/owner of the horse—if they have stabling privileges at our tracks.” He explained that the punitive actions could range from revoking of stall privileges at the race track, to actually barring individuals from all of the company’s racing properties.
McErlean said that Penn National Gaming, Inc. would hold owners and trainers of horses accountable for conducting “proper due diligence on those buying horses.” Additionally, he said, track management had urged horsemen throughout the racing industry to step up efforts to ensure the humane treatment of horses that are no longer capable of racing.
A similar policy is in effect at Parx, where there is also a foundation, Turning for Home, which supports programs and facilities where racehorses are cared for, sheltered and/or retrained for other careers. At Penn National there is an active program, New Vocations, which is run by the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) to place retired or injured racehorses with new owners or in facilities where they will be protected.
What Is Due Diligence?
McErlean of Penn National Gaming would not speak on the record about the events surrounding Beau Jaques’ death or the other horses that wound up in the same situation. Stephanie Beattie, president of HBPA at Penn National,says that her group has been working with management at the track to put controls in place. She said that HBPA had recommended signing contracts with those who purchased or received horses from owners and trainers. “The way for everyone to stop it (schemes like Lefever’s), the way to give your horse away is to get a contract signed,” she said. This was one of the tactics she says track management had supported. “HBPA has asked horsemen to use the contract. We told everybody several times that when you give your horses away, you need to sign a contract.”
Beau Jaques’ owner, Patterson, did not have a contract with Lefever, but, according to the aforementioned Affidavit of Probable Cause, he believed he had an agreement with her that if she couldn’t place the horse, she could return him to Patterson. Beattie says that the fates of Beau Jaques and the other horses known to have been shipped to the slaughterhouse in Canada have saddened everyone. “I don’t think any of these people wanted their horses to go to the killers.”
Beattie says that she had seen Lefever in the stable area many times, and always wondered how she achieved such free access to what is supposed to be a secure area. “If the girl put a smile on and got herself through security, that’s security. I don’t know how she got through,” she says, “because when I forget my pass I have to sign a day pass or go home and get my license.” She says despite the many years she has worked at the track, and the fact that she is there every day, she still has to show her pass to get through security. “I think she just sweet-talked her way in there. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.”
She says that, once admitted to the backside, Lefever was able to persuade trainers and owners that she ran a legitimate business. “It was just the people gave her horses, she talked the good talk and they believed her. She had business cards, she had cups, she had videos of horses.” Beattie says that Lefever had actually placed some of the horses, and the former owners had confirmed that the horses they gave Lefever were safe. “I just wonder if she took too many horses.”
She says she is disappointed that more of the people who gave their horses to Lefever did not take advantage of the adoption program that has been in place at Penn National since 2010. “We have a general membership meeting and we’re going to bring it up again. We’re going to try to stress to them again how important it is to use our adoption program.” Beattie says they’ve got more stalls available now for the adoption program, so they have plenty of capacity. “You tell them and you tell them and you just hope they do it. We just wish they would utilize our program.”
Another Strategy, Nationwide in Scope
Recently The Jockey Club and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) announced the creation of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), an organization that will accredit facilities for retired racehorses and raise funds for the facilities. The TAA will be headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky. It includes owners, breeders, jockeys, racetracks, aftercare professionals and others considered stakeholders in the racing industry.
Mike Ziegler, the Executive Director of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, says that a key part of TAA will be the accreditation program. “Accreditation will require facilities to meet some minimum standards for care. The process will be come up with a code of standards.” Once a prospective aftercare facility has applied, TAA will conduct site inspections, confirming that the facility meets the TAA standards. “The reason for these standards is to address what happened with Lefever,” Ziegler says. Also he says the rigorous standards, along with the accreditation process, will reassure donors that they’re “doing right by the horse, which at the end of the day—and the beginning of the day, for that matter, is what is important.”
Ziegler says that there will be a huge education process aimed at making owners and trainers aware of why it’s important to use accredited facilities. Jack Wolf, TAA Board President, explained the importance of this new alliance in the press release announcing the creation of the organization. “It is our responsibility as owners, tracks, breeders, trainers, jockeys, bloodstock agents, and anyone who has a stake in the game to take responsibility for the aftercare of these great animals who are the keystone of our sport.” Wolf’s Starlight Stable owns Algorithms, regarded as one of the top prospects likely to compete in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Beau Jaques died far too soon. But the circumstances surrounding his final days appear to have made a difference. In that regard, the nine-time winner has achieved a transcendent victory.
Kelsey Lefever Update
Amy Worden reported February 22 in the Philadelphia Inquirer that Lefever will agree to enter a first-offender program as part of a negotiated deal with prosecutors, receive two years of probation, and be prevented from activities related to horses. She will not be allowed to acquire horses during her probation, according to the report.
She waived her February 21 hearing and will be formally arraigned on April 19.