N.Y. owner charged with animal cruelty

ALBANY, N.Y. — A prominent Thoroughbred breeder who once owned a Kentucky Derby favorite was charged Friday with cruelty to animals, two days after authorities seized 177 malnourished horses at his Hudson Valley farm.

Ernie Paragallo was charged with 22 counts of violating New York's Agriculture and Markets law that prohibits torturing or injuring an animal or failing to provide sustenance, New York state police dispatcher Terri Gallagher said.

After Paragallo's arrest, New York State Racing and Wagering Board chairman John Sabini released a statement saying the board had "immediately terminated his privilege to be involved with Thoroughbred racing in New York."

Paragallo, 51, was arraigned before Coxsackie Town Justice Thomas Fori and sent to the Greene County Jail in lieu of $5,000 cash or $10,000 bond bail.

He did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone after his arrest.

Paragallo, the owner of 1996 Derby favorite and fifth-place finisher Unbridled's Song, was arrested after driving upstate from his Long Island home to be questioned by investigators about the malnourished horses found Wednesday on his Center Brook farm. The farm is in Greene County, 20 miles south of Albany.

"It wasn't knowing neglect," Paragallo told The Associated Press. "Did I try and harm any of those horses? Absolutely not. Did some of them come up skinny? Absolutely. Was it mismanagement? Absolutely. I'm not shying away from it. But I didn't abuse them."

State police and animal protection organizations seized the horses at his upstate farm. Veterinarians examined the animals and found all of them to be in varying stages of malnutrition.

The horses remain on the farm under the supervision of the Columbia Greene Humane Society, which has brought in hay and grain for them.Paragallo agreed Friday to transfer ownership of 67 of the horses to the humane society for future adoption.

Ron Perez, president of the humane society, said that in addition to being malnourished, many of the horses were infested with internal and external parasites, suffering from untreated lacerations, and in need of hoof care. He said broodmares were kept in stalls without proper bedding.

"This is a sad situation for the animals," Perez said. "The way he let them go is absolutely unconscionable."

Paragallo blamed the horses' conditions on miscalculations in the amount of feed and hay purchased for the farm over the winter.

"We probably underfed them the amount of feed they were supposed to get," he said.

Paragallo said he had even more horses, 240 to 250, the previous winter on the 500-acre farm, which has two 83-acre paddocks.

"It's hard to keep track of every horse when they're turned out in those big paddocks," he said.

Paragallo said he hadn't visited the farm in at least nine months.

Unbridled's Song won the 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and in 1996 won the Florida Derby and the Wood Memorial to earn his status as Kentucky Derby favorite. He also owned Artax, the 1999 Eclipse winner as top sprinter.

Meanwhile, the New York Racing Association revoked Paragallo's credentials for NYRA's three tracks — Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct, where his daughters' stable has 40 horses. The move prohibits Paragallo from the tracks' backstretch and paddock, but not its grandstand or other areas open to patrons.

First 'Jockey Challenge' set for May

BALTIMORE — Eight of the nation's top jockeys, including Eclipse Award winners Kent Desormeaux, Edgar Prado, Garrett Gomez and John Velazquez, will square off in the inaugural Jockey Challenge at Pimlico Race Course on May 15, the day before the Preakness Stakes.

The Maryland Jockey Club teamed up with the Jockeys' Guild for the event and will make a $5,000 contribution to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

The jockey with the most points at the end of a four-race competition will be crowned champion. Riding assignments are determined by a drawing on May 10, and jockeys receive points for finishing first (12 points), second (6), third (4) and fourth (3) in each race. The champion jockey will earn $14,000. Other prize money will be: $10,000 (second); $8,000 (third) and $3,500 (fourth through eighth).

The other jockeys participating are Rafael Bejarano, Ramon Dominguez, Julien Leparoux and Mario Pino.