Judge rules Keeneland can give Breeders' Cup Sprint winnings to owners of winner Runhappy

Maria Borell is suing Gallery Racing alleging it reneged on agreements made prior to Runhappy's Breeders' Sprint win.
Runhapy won five straight races under Borell's care.
Maria Borell is suing Gallery Racing alleging it reneged on agreements made prior to Runhappy's Breeders' Sprint win. Runhapy won five straight races under Borell's care. Photo provided

Keeneland can give Runhappy's $820,000 prize money for winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint to Gallery Racing, a Fayette Circuit Court judge ruled Friday.

After a hearing, Fayette Circuit Court Judge James Ishmael Jr. ruled Keeneland did not have to withhold $122,752 — the amount fired thoroughbred trainer Maria Borell says Gallery Racing owes her.

Runhappy won the Breeders' Cup Sprint on Oct. 31. The day after, Borell was fired by Gallery Racing, a Houston-based stable owned by Jim and Linda McIngvale.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, Borell, 32, of Winchester, alleged breach of contract and defamation by the colt's owners. Borell says she had an "oral agreement" in which she would train horses owned by Gallery Racing in exchange for $1,000 per week, 10 percent of Gallery's share of purses won by horses trained by her, 10 percent of the amount subsequently won in claiming races and one lifetime breeding right for each Grade 1 stakes winner by a horse trained by Borell.

Keeneland and Breeders' Cup were also named as defendants in the lawsuit because they were holding the $820,000 purse for Runhappy's win. In court documents filed earlier this week, Keeneland asked Ishamel to make a decision on who should get Runhappy's $820,000 purse.

McIngvale's lawyers argued in court documents that Kentucky law is clear: Keeneland and Breeders' Cup can not deduct from purse winnings except for jockey fees or unless a request has been made in writing by the person or organization to which the purse should be paid. Gallery Racing has not authorized anyone else to receive that purse.

Ishmael decided Friday that he had no power to require Keeneland to set aside any money Borell alleges she is owned.

In court documents filed this week, lawyers for the McIngvales say Borell knew she was hired as a private trainer, not a public trainer. Public trainers receive 10 percent of purses but private trainers do not, lawyers for McIngvale argue in court documents.

The court documents say Borell sent an email to Laura Wohlers, racing manager for Gallery, before the August Grade I King's Bishops Stakes at Saratoga Springs, N.Y. In that email, Borell asks if she will receive 10 percent of any winnings from Runhappy. That email shows Borell knew that she was not entitled to the 10 percent as a private trainer, documents filed by the McIngvales' attorney shows.

Borell's lawyers argue that there is no distinction between public and private trainers. Affidavits from other trainers say it is customary for trainers to receive 10 percent of purses for any first, second or third-place finishes. Borell's lawyers also have an affidavit from a trainer who worked for the McIngvales as a private trainer that received a weekly stipend and 10 percent of any purse winnings.

Richard Getty, a lawyer for Borell, said he will likely file a motion asking the judge to separate the breach of contract claim from the defamation claim so the issues surrounding the money can be heard soon — hopefully in the next 90 days. The defamation claims can be heard at a later date.

Borell alleges the McIngvales made "false, libelous, defamatory and damaging statements" about Borell in The Paulick Report, which covers racing and the Thoroughbred industry.

The McIngvales have not filed a response addressing the specific allegations in Borell's complaint. The McIngvales have only filed a response to Keeneland's request for Ishmael to decide what should be done with the $820,000 winnings, said Tom Miller, a Lexington lawyer who represents the McIngvales. Miller said they still have more than 20 days to file the response.