‘If That’s Not Neglect, What Is It?’: The Case Of Shandian Raises Questions About Pennsylvania’s Safety Net - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

‘If That’s Not Neglect, What Is It?’: The Case Of Shandian Raises Questions About Pennsylvania’s Safety Net

Shandian upon his arrival to Redman’s facility

When breeder Lili Kobielski secured a deal to buy back Shandian, a 5-year-old she'd raised on The New Hill Farm in upstate New York, she knew he may not be prepared for a competitive career. He'd had 38 starts with three wins, none of which came in this, his most lightly-raced year. He'd bounced around the claiming levels for much of the last two years, mostly at Parx Racing near Philadelphia.

“I still have his mother,” said Kobielski. “She's 23. She's retired. We'll keep her until she dies. We do keep many of our horses and try to retire them. I was really excited to bring him home and have him live out his days with Mama, or be a show horse if he could.”

She didn't expect to get a call that he required immediate euthanasia. In the months since his death in May, she's been questioning how racing's regulatory safety net could have failed him so completely.

Shandian was a son of Emcee and the Far Out East mare Asian Adventure. He'd failed to attain his reserve at a $3,500 bid as a weanling at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Fall Mixed Sale, then sold to Bryan Rice for $3,700 as a short yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky February Mixed Sale. As a 2-year-old he commanded $35,000 at OBS March from trainer Gary Contessa, who ran the horse at the beginning of his career in maiden special weights on the New York circuit.

After Contessa retired, Shandian switched barns several times before he was claimed after a winning effort in June 2021 by trainer Susan Crowell and owner Charles Harvatt. Kobielski watched from afar. It would be his last trip to the winner's circle.

Kobielski contacted Crowell via Facebook in August 2021, asking to buy him.

“I will tell my father,” Crowell responded. “He trains him.”

Kobielski checked in again in January 2022 and spoke with Harvatt, who is Crowell's father. In February, Crowell messaged Kobielski to say Harvatt had been offered $2,000 by a trainer at Charles Town. Kobielski offered $1,000, and the horse kept running.

“He wouldn't run for me,” said Harvatt. “He was running for Pat Farro, the previous trainer. When I claimed him, I couldn't get him to run.”

Crowell gave Kobielski her father's number, and Harvatt said after every race, he'd hear from the breeder asking him to give the horse away.

“I'd say no I'm not going to give him away,” he recalled. “There's nothing wrong with this horse. I'm going to run him again. But finally I said, it's time.”

On April 27, Shandian ran one final race, finishing ninth of nine for a tag of $5,000 at Parx, more than 50 lengths off the winner and earning the chart comment “stopped abruptly.”

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On most racing days in Pennsylvania, a state veterinarian watches horses as they gallop out and are unsaddled, flagging any potential problems for follow-up the next morning. Nothing about Shandian's condition leaving the track apparently raised red flags with the veterinarian.

“The vets are always on top of their job over there. They do their job too good,” Harvatt joked.

After the poor showing on April 27, Kobielski messaged Crowell again.

“I'm gonna tell my father tomorrow to give him to you,” Crowell responded on the evening of April 27. “It's really embarrassing and not right for the horse to run if he has no interess[sic] anymore. Give me a day ok.”

Crowell followed up later that night.

“When can you come get him[?] He said you can have them for $1000,” read a message from Crowell said. “Thank god. Thank you so much.”

“I said, is he sound, because whether he is or he isn't, I'll take him, I don't care,” Kobielski recalled. “They said absolutely, he's 100% sound.”

A thrilled Kobielski made arrangements with longtime friend Jessica Redman, who retrains and sells off-track horses via her Benchmark Sport Horses in Camden, Del. They agreed that Redman, whose farm was much closer to Parx, should lay Shandian up, assess him, and then send him onto another job.

On April 28, Crowell told Kobielski the horse was in “perfect” condition. On May 1, hours before Redman's representative was scheduled to pick Shandian up from the track, Crowell notified Kobielski that Shandian had apparently kicked a stall wall overnight and had a swelling in one hind leg. The shipper, Joan Wolfe, thought it could be serious.

“She said, I'm not comfortable picking this horse up because he's on three legs,” Kobielski remembered.

Kobielski contacted Harvatt and Crowell again, asking to have a veterinarian examine and diagnose the horse, who she'd paid for via the online pay platform Zelle. At first, she said Harvatt told her he couldn't find a vet to come look at Shandian, so Kobielski called the commission and had a state vet take a look.

State veterinarians, by their definition, are not permitted to treat horses. They can respond to welfare concerns related to a horse on state-sanctioned grounds, but diagnosis or prescribing medications are beyond their grasp.

“The state vet went to look at him and said, yeah he's really lame, it's probably cellulitis,” said Kobielski. “But I found out later, they had him all bandaged up. No one took the bandages off.”

A private veterinarian subsequently looked at the horse — also, Kobielski recalls he told her, without removing the bandage. The private veterinarian diagnosed the horse with cellulitis.

Cellulitis occurs when bacteria enter the leg through a cut, cracked heels, or a skin lesion and causes significant, painful localized swelling which can come on suddenly. The skin can sometimes rupture in severe cases. The solution is typically anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and handwalking – which is what was prescribed for Shandian. It can be stubborn but in most cases responds to treatment with no further complications, as long as it's addressed quickly.

Harvatt recalls the horse was prescribed antibiotics and that after two days, the swelling was significantly better.

“He had an infection in his back rear leg,” said Harvatt. “Dr. Lurito put him on antibiotics for two days and says, make sure this horse stays on antibiotics.”

The shipper came back a few days later.

“When Joan Wolfe came to pick up this horse I told her, make sure, wherever the horse is going, that they keep him on antibiotics,” said Harvatt.

Everyone on both sides agreed that Harvatt begged for more time to treat Shandian's cellulitis, but Kobielski was by now getting anxious that no progress seemed to be happening and wanted the horse with Redman.

“When he got off the trailer here … I feel like I've seen some really bad things,” said Redman. “This horse got off the trailer and I knew instantly I'm putting this horse down. It couldn't walk.

“It had a wrap on that leg, and I took the wrap off and the whole suspensory [ligament] is just gone. I knew looking at the leg, because the ankle had just dropped to the ground. You know why that happens – it's because the suspensory is gone, there's nothing holding the leg up.

A look at Shandian's right hind fetlock

“He was so skinny. He looked emaciated, and this horse had just run. I'm not used to seeing that. I'll get horses in and one might be thin, but it looks a racing-fit horse. This horse looked like something that came out of the kill pen and you're like, 'This horse just ran. How?'”

Upon removing the bandage, Redman discovered twin oozing wounds on either side of the horse's pastern, in similar spots just above and in front of the joint.

Harvatt remembers the situation differently.

“When that horse walked out of my barn to get on that van, there was three people there,” said Harvatt. “That horse was fine. There was nothing wrong with that horse. The state vet was there, the girl who shipped the horse, the groom was there … then all of a sudden, the horse is skinny, the horse is dying. I don't know what they did to this horse. That lady's out of her mind. There's no horse in my barn or my daughter's barn – and my daughter's not even here, my daughter's at Monmouth Park; I'm in charge at Philadelphia — I've had that horse since I claimed him. He looked like a million dollars.”

Harvatt says Lurito did see the injured leg without a bandage, including a cut that he believed was the origin of the cellulitis and advised he keep the area clean. He believes the only reason Shandian's new caretakers could have thought his suspensory was injured was because the leg was swollen from cellulitis – although he admits that the horse was “walking on his toe” when he left the barn due to the infection.

“He didn't have no suspensories. There's nothing [in his pre-exam race record] about suspensories, bowed tendons, nothing. No filling in the ankles, nothing,” Harvatt said. “That horse was never tapped. I never tapped any joint on him. He never needed it. He just wouldn't run for me.”

Redman called her veterinarian from Delmarva Equine Clinic to do an emergency exam. The notes on the resulting invoice noted the horse was “grade 5/5 lame RH, with swelling up to hock, 2-inch diameter open draining wound just above lateral aspect of fetlock RH. Three-inch open draining wound just above medial aspect RH fetlock, increased digital pulse LH, temperature 101.3 after Banamine.”

Radiographs of the right hind leg revealed both sesamoids were displaced, and the pastern joint was luxated.

“Suspect complete traumatic rupture of both branches of suspensory, +/- infection of RH fetlock and/or digital sheath,” read the notes.

The prognosis was grim. Redman and Kobielski agreed – euthanasia was the only ethical choice.

Shandian died on May 6.

Shandian as a foal. Photo courtesy Lili Kobielski

“[Jessica] said he also had sores all over his body, just from sleeping all the time,” said Kobielski. “She said he was starving. He hopped into the stall and dove for hay.”

According to Kobielski, a necropsy confirmed that the suspensory in his right hind was completely compromised, and revealed arthritic changes in multiple joints, serious ulcers, and supporting limb laminitis in the left hind.

“They don't just founder overnight,' said Kobielski. “It was bad.

“We brought it to the racing commission. It's stalled out, basically, because they can't get a vet to say without a doubt that this was absolutely neglect. They don't want to go to court and say that, because they don't want to be sued.

“What I'm asking is, if that's not neglect, what is it?”

Harvatt believes someone neglected the horse, and that it wasn't him.

“I don't know why they put that horse down,” said Harvatt. “There was no reason whatsoever to put that horse down.

“I was shocked. When my daughter called me a couple hours later and said they put him down, I said no way. I said why didn't they send him back to me if they didn't want him? I could've gave him to Turning For Home, and he'dve found a nice home over there. I couldn't believe it. That little guy. I loved him.

“They neglected him. They should've kept him on antibiotics for another week and the swelling would've gone down and he would've been fine for a riding horse.”

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The commission confirmed there was an investigation into whether Shandian's end was a case of animal cruelty. That case has since been closed. Harvatt says evidence provided to the stewards by his veterinarian and the state veterinarian supported his position that “there was nothing wrong with the horse, but he had an infection in his leg.”

“There was a multi-pronged investigation into the horse Shandian,” read a statement from Tom Chuckas, director of Thoroughbred Horse Racing for the Pennsylvania commission, provided in response to questions from the Paulick Report. “The first aspect of the investigation involved allegations of potential animal abuse. The Commission actively investigated the animal abuse allegations and submitted all evidence to include necropsies to equine veterinarians. This included a nationally recognized horse racing veterinary expert. Based upon the scientific evidence presented, experts were unable to sustain a finding of abuse or neglect. The investigation into other potential violations is ongoing. The Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission is unable to provide further comment regarding ongoing investigations.”

Kobielski's dealings with Harvatt and Crowell also prompted her to file a complaint with the commission about paper training. Both had emphasized to her that it was Harvatt calling the shots with the horse.

“My daughter Susie, don't you bother her,” Harvatt said at the conclusion of an October interview with the Paulick Report. “She don't even see that horse. She's at Monmouth. I'm in charge of the horse.”

Harvatt holds an assistant trainer's license and keeps a small string on behalf of Crowell at Parx. It's difficult for officials – or anyone – to define what constitutes assistance and what constitutes a fully separate string, particularly in the case of Shandian where Harvatt was also the horse's owner and therefore didn't have to answer to anyone else.

For Kobielski, the greater concern is the horse. Shandian passed a pre-race veterinary exam and Harvatt says he wasn't flagged post-race in his last start. But Kobielski points out the horse had been a poor performer for a while. With the exception of a third-place finish in February, he hadn't hit the board since June 2021, and was second to last prior to his final race.

In March, Pennsylvania implemented new procedures aimed at reducing fatalities including a requirement that a racing panel examine 30 days of medical records for each horse, and veterinary clearance before each horse can run, as well as the hiring of additional veterinarians to monitor morning work.

Also in March, Pennsylvania implemented a poor performance ineligibility rule, which states that any horse that finishes more than 12 lengths behind the winner in five consecutive starts will be ineligible to run in the state.

The rule only applies to starts made after Feb. 28, 2022. Shandian ran three times after the rule's implementation, failing to come within a dozen lengths each time. He didn't make it to a fifth.

There were safety nets in place to prevent Shandian from leaving the track with chronic injuries that would ultimately prove fatal. The safeguards that have been missing in other situations – a caring breeder, a trainer aware of accredited aftercare options, regulatory veterinary monitoring, and a poor performance policy – were all present here. And yet his ending is still a tragic one.

For Harvatt, the notion the horse suffered in his care is inconceivable.

“I loved him,” he said. “The first day I claimed him, he was a little colt, but he didn't even know he was a colt. You could walk a filly right by him, he didn't even know it. He was a lover. That's why I kept him so long.

“There's no way this is neglect. I've been in this business over 50 years. There's never been no neglect of my horses. I fall in love with my horses. So there's no neglect. They can send anybody they want over here to look at my horses at Philadelphia, or my daughter's at Monmouth Park and see if there's neglect. I'll match 'em up with Todd Pletcher's stake horses. I'll put my horses next to California Chrome and you won't tell the difference. But they can't run like him. But neglect? No way in hell.”

For Kobielski and Redman, it's impossible to think anything else – and it's worrying to imagine that the horse could meet this end, even with enhanced oversight.

“Being around horses, to me, it was the worst thing I've ever seen. That was something you couldn't believe. There's no way that any vet should have allowed that horse to race. It wasn't a new problem,” said Redman. “That horse was suffering. I do think he wanted to just give up and die.”

“I was at the (Kentucky) Oaks when this happened and I was walking around crying, thinking what am I doing in this industry if this is what happens? And I'm always the one who defends this industry,” said Kobielski. “Nobody intervened. By the third time he runs dead last, it seems like there should be some oversight. That didn't happen.

“I love horse racing. I grew up in it. I want it to continue. And things like this can just not happen. Ever.”

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