Borell: Runhappy's Owners 'Only Care About The Money' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Borell: Runhappy’s Owners ‘Only Care About The Money’

Maria Borell with Sprint winner Runhappy

What a mess.

Less than 24 hours after one of the most uplifting stories of a tremendously exciting homecoming Breeders' Cup at Keeneland unfolded – the saga of 3-year-old Sprint sensation Runhappy and her unheralded young trainer, Maria Borell –  the story turned sour. Very sour.

Borell was fired by Laura Wohlers, racing manager for Jim McIngvale, known to millions as the flamboyant Houston furniture store owner “Mattress Mack.” Wohlers is also the twin sister of McIngvale's wife, Linda and works at McIngvale's Gallery Furniture.

Borell is in good company. More than 30 trainers, including Hall of Famers Nick Zito, Jack Van Berg, the late Robert Frankel and Bob Baffert, have either been fired by McIngvale or quit because of what one of them said was constant meddling by Wohlers. “Almost everyone who's trained for them, it's the trainers who usually fire them,” said one of McIngvale's former conditioners who asked not to be named.

Borell took to Twitter to make public the news that she was being replaced, saying she had a run-in with Wohlers over whether or not Runhappy should go to the track the morning after his winning Breeders' Cup race. Borell said there was heat and filling in an ankle; Wohlers disagreed with the assessment.

Also Read – Jim McIngvale: 'Timing Was Terrible, But We Did What We Did'

Borell, in an interview with the Paulick Report, agreed that the tension had been building between her and Wohlers since the Super Saver colt returned to her Thoroughbred Training Center barn in Lexington following his Aug. 29 victory in the Grade 1 King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga.

“We butted heads quite a bit since the King's Bishop,” Borell said. “She tried to get very involved, tried to change the bit, his bridle, what time he gets fed, his night feed.”

Wohlers has worked on and off as trainer for McIngvale since 1999, winning 29 races from 239 starts but no graded stakes, according to Equibase. The King's Bishop was McIngvale's first Grade 1 win as an owner after more than 1,000 starts and millions of dollars invested since becoming a Thoroughbred owner in 1996.

After replacing Chuck Simon, who had Runhappy earlier in his 2-year-old season, Wohlers trained the colt for his first two career starts – a maiden victory at Turfway Park in December 2014 and a ninth-place finish in the G3 LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds in January. Runhappy came out of the LeComte with a fractured tibia, Borell said, and Wohlers went back to Houston to her job at McIngvale's furniture store.

It was then that Wohlers called Borell out of the blue and asked if she would train a handful of McIngvale's horses. Until that point in her brief training career, Borell had yet to win a race, going 0-for-9 in 2013 and 0-for-13 in 2014.

As she said in a feature that was part of the NBC Sports Breeders' Cup telecast, “I was in a pretty dire situation until this horse came along.”

That situation included financial problems and an eviction from Walnut Springs Farm and judgment against Borell in court for non-payment of rent at the farm she leased near the training center, where she boarded horses for outside clients. She is also in a dispute with her current landlord, Kara Harrison-Tucker, who alleged Borell stopped payment on an October rent check for the farm she leases in Scott County and has engaged in a “deliberate act of negligence and dishonesty.”

Borell admits that she fell behind paying her rent and said she's had to put liens on a number of horses she boarded or trained because the owners didn't pay their bills. “I've been making payments to Walnut Springs,” said Borell. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission made that a condition of her being licensed.

McIngvale sent four horses to Borell in April. “Runhappy came off a layup farm,” she said. “Another horse, Triplehott, had a bad knee that was arthritic. They didn't want to stop on Triplehott and wanted to get her claimed.” The City Zip filly won at Arlington in June, giving Borell her first career victory, and was claimed for $50,000. Triplehott has raced once since then.

Borell said she and Wohlers got along well in the beginning. “I would talk to Laura often,” she said. “We would talk about things other than horses. We were friends.

“It was never her telling me what to do,” Borell said. “It was my decision to take off the blinkers. I got the condition books and found the races. One of Runhappy's first five-furlong workouts went in a minute and Laura wanted him to go in :57. I wanted him to relax.”

Runhappy won his first start back, an allowance race at Indiana Grand July 7. Then came a victory at Ellis Park in a July 31 allowance/optional claiming race, followed by the King's Bishop Aug. 29.

That was when Borell first met McIngvale.

“I heard he's very tough to work for, but I barely talked to him until recently,” she said. “After the Breeders' Cup win, he told me, 'I'm so proud of you, honey, you did such a good job.' He said that several times before he flew back to Houston.”

Borell said there were some strange moments working for McIngvale and Wohlers. “They wanted me to dye my hair and hide my tattoos (she has an image of Sunday Silence tattooed on her back), which has nothing to do with my training job.”

Borell said her verbal agreement with Wohlers was that she would not take outside horses while she trained for McIngvale. She was paid a salary but also assumed she would get 10 percent commission from purses won. That hasn't happened

(Since this interview was conducted, Borell has retained attorney Richard Getty and issued a statement asking that she be “fairly compensated for my efforts.”)

“Nothing was ever talked about commission until after I won the three races,” she said. “Then Laura said they don't normally pay it. I thought I would get it. Every private trainer I know gets at least a stakes commission.”

Runhappy has earned $1,284,900 in his five consecutive victories with Borell as trainer.

After their disagreement on Sunday morning, Wohlers returned to the Thoroughbred Center in the afternoon to tell Borell she was taking over training Runhappy. “She said she is going to take the horses to California herself,” Borell said. “Anything that says I wouldn't go to California with Runhappy isn't true. I said I would go anywhere with this horse and do anything for him.

“I've always looked out for the best interest of the horse. I've had to fight them since the King's Bishop.

“Originally we had decided the horse would get some time off after the Breeders' Cup and be campaigned next year. Now they are talking about the Malibu or the Cigar Mile. I said, 'You don't care about the horse, you only care about the money.'

“They broke down all three horses they had in Louisiana. I don't care if they take Runhappy away from me, but I hope they will give him to anybody else and not go back to the same situation before where every horse broke down.”

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