Life lesson I've learned.
"There are very few people in life that you can rely on and trust, and even less in the horse business."
"I wasn't as smart as I thought I was. My horsemanship ideas are zero."
- Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale
In the curious, yet not unusual case of Maria Borell vs. Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, you have someone who doesn't have the skill and doesn't trust enough in an industry where history has shown that trusting too much is a suspect strategy for success.
And so I begin there.
Everyone on the net this week wants to pick a side in the Borell firing by Matress Mack. I am no different. I did have an initial post. Here it is.
"Being on the inside of the game for a long time, I can tell you that the
worst thing is having a really hands-on owner who either thinks he
knows too much or doesn't care either way and treats the horses like a
toy or the sports car he gets to placate his ego. And add in a relative
who manages it all who isn't an actual horse trainer of any note, and
you have this sort of thing happen all the time.
At the end of the day, this woman now has her name
out there, she has a Breeders Cup winner to her credit, one that was
nothing of any note when she got him. Others will see that and she will
have a barn full of them by New Years Day. She is likely better off
without the idiot owner and his racing manager relative.
one who really loses in this is likely the horse, which is how it
usually goes. If and when this horse breaks down from mismanagement,
which is likely given the circumstances of why he was removed from her
care in the first place, it will be a sad, yet predictable, and common
I've been in barns many times when a great horse was ruined by a
suspect owner and the minions chosen by that owner to grind the horse
into the ground."
I stand by that status. For sure the only certainty is that the horse will be the big loser in this. Likely with his life. If he is lucky, he will only end up a cripple and have his life shortened by a few years. If he is unlucky, he will breakdown in training or in a race, and die on the racetrack. Taking a horse who has just run the race of his life, with a history of multiple ailments and injuries--with filling and heat in his lower legs--to the track the next day to breeze...is quite frankly total insanity. Anyone who would even suggest it clearly has no concept of handling horses. Even the novice groom could figure that out.
Owners, and their appointed managers, in many cases, don't understand that. Sad reality I've seen hundreds of times.
But of course there is a bigger picture. I have a different take upon reflection of all the factors here. More of a practical reality type of statement, which is mostly how I react when I think these things through.
“I’m like Donald Trump,” Jim McIngvale said. “You’ve got to make the
hard decisions. “If people disagree with me, they can wire me $50
million and lead him out.
Most are picking the side of Borell. That is easy enough to do on the surface. Mack is very unlikable. Donald Trump unlikable. It's hard to be on his side, even if you aren't on Borell's side. Removing a horse from a trainers care the day after she got you the biggest win you can get, one you haven't even approached before despite spending tens of millions to try and achieve, when you have said you were going to remove her all along but did not, smacks of low class to a degree most cannot fathom. It just looks like you used her to get there, then tossed her aside once she did.
But unless you understand all the dynamics at play here, you are really just choosing a side that is easy to poke giants holes in. Both sides have huge ones.
At the end of the day, this whole thing is nobodies business but the two people who are actually knee deep in this. Like all things, both sides have a valid point. And both sides want something they can't have. That can't work. Not for long anyway. It is a business and personal relationship that is destined to fail and a ticking time bomb from the moment it is initiated.
I have been both an owner only, a trainer only and an owner/trainer. I have
insider knowledge of what all that means and how it actually works.
Here is the problem with picking a side in the Borell/Mattress Mack soap opera.
There is no good side to pick. Both parties have several things that make it easy for the other side to attack. Even if they didn't, it still cannot work. As most trainer and owner relationships cannot. Not for long. It is a marriage that is almost always going to end in divorce. There are exceptions, but those people understand the arrangement and are okay with it. They are also very few and far between. Very much the exception and not anywhere close to the norm.
At the end of the day, there are two facts that can't be disputed in play here, and they are independent of each other, yet entirely related and go to the heart of this conflict.
First, and foremost, the trainer makes the horse training decisions. One hundred percent. As soon as that rule is violated, the problems begin. And my experience, is that, in most cases for a public trainer, that rule is always violated at some point and to some extent.
One of the most successful harness horse trainers I know of, Jack Darling, was once a public trainer. He did very well. But, I'm sure, based on his type of personality, that he didn't care for the interference he likely experienced from his owner, who has gone through many trainers in his day. I don't know that for a fact, its just an observation. For the last 10 years or so, Darling uses only his own money, buys all the horses with no partners and calls all the shots. However, he is the exception to the rule for most trainers. He has one added variable on his side. He is clearly a very good businessman and knows how to manage money. Three years ago, he bought a yearling named Apprentice Hanover. The horse panned out very well, and when a significant offer was on the table to sell, he sold. If an owner was involved, that might have not played out that way. Darling is known as a seller, and it has worked out very well for him. He is the ideal most public trainers wish they could be. But, most cannot. They lack his skill set.
Second, the owner owns the horse, puts up the money and risk, and its his or her horse to do with as they see fit. If that means firing the current trainer, that is their decision. Nobody elses opinion really matters. As McIngvale says, you want to make judgements, pay me what the horse is worth and then do what you want. Otherwise, shut your yapper.
“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.”
-Maria Borell on Wohlers (McIngvale's sister in law and racing manager) interference since she has trained Runhappy.
In reality, these two rules will always clash. I have seen this situation repeat itself so many times I take it as a given.
Trainers are dominant types. If they have risen to the point that others want to give them horses to train, they got to that point because they are good managers, and expect to have the freedom to do exactly that. Manage the horse the way they see fit. They don't even have a concept of a micromanaging owner that fits into any scheme of their existence. If you hang around any barn, you get that. There is only one boss when it comes to man, owner and horse, and that is the trainer. If you hire this type, say a Baffert, Lucas, Pletcher, etc, you accept that is what you are getting. If you want a lackey, then you hire a Borell, who really was a nobody with no past success or means to even support herself in the horse business. She readily admits that.
“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.
Because of this dynamic, McIngvale preyed on Borell. He is smart enough to know that when he wanted to exert his dominance and get his way, she would have no choice but to let him. In no world that makes any sense would you have given a horse like Runhappy to a novice trainer like Borell who had never won a race period in her short unsuccessful training career unless you were more concerned with getting your way than actually winning races and making the most of the talent of the horse.
"Borell was recommended to Wohlers earlier this year by James Moore, a
friend of the McIngvales. “We asked around Kentucky for recommendations
of someone who would follow our rules,” said Linda McIngvale. “We had
to have somebody who followed the instructions of Laura to a T. She is
the trainer, but she’s only done what we told her to do. We like to
manage what is going to happen with our horses, we are very hands on
micromanaging the training.”
“Everyone has to buy into the team,” Jim McIngvale said, “and they
have to buy into the work culture and the data. We manage by data.”
Most owners, at the high end stratosphere that Mack operates in are very successful businessmen, who are likely egomaniacal control freaks. They truly believe they got where they are for exactly that reason. So, they don't hire a trainer. They hire a day to day horseperson to do what they do, but they will meddle and dictate to those trainers at some point. Its the reason Mack has gone through 30 plus trainers, many the best in the business like Zito, Baffert and Frankel. If you meddle with them, they will just tell you to come pick up your horse and do as you wish. If you want the horse to stay, we do it my way.
The my way vs. the my way is at the heart of this dispute. And its inevitable.
was tampering with the trainers, saying I want to do this, I want to do
that. So, my reputation was probably pretty well deserved, because I
tampered a lot and got involved with something I knew nothing about."
- Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale
That was 11 years ago. Some things never change. In fact, some things get worse. Especially when owners think they can be trainers because they are also good at other things. Training horses is a very skill specific type of thing. Most great trainers I know cannot do anything else but that one thing very well, and most owners who are very successful in business and life have no clue how to train a racehorse and make the proper decisions. There is a million on the other side for every Jack Darling out there.
At the end of the day, what this type of owner wants is a groom, not a trainer. Someone who will take good care of the horse, and do what they are told when they are told to do it. That isn't a trainer. Trainers make decisions and manage the health, fitness and soundness of racehorses and prospects. Owners who think they are trainers, but have never done it, and have no actual knowledge of how to do it, and have no interest in actually doing the hands on work it takes to get performance and longevity out of a racehorse are the worst part of the horse training business. In these days of the cell phone, they know they can always reach you. They can also put cameras all over your barn, in their horses stall and generally pester you and interfere to the point it becomes intolerable. They can also send in their own groom to look after the horse. Which is a big no no with almost any trainer I know of. Only those who have no option to deal with and accept that kind of bullshit would put up with it.
Like Maria Borell. Who, in reality, was a nobody before Runhappy came along. A broke nobody.
I have known of many trainers who were nobodies before the great horse, and were nobodies after that horse, but hit that one great horse. Maria Borell could be that person. Most likely will be. Most trainers are lucky if they get one Runhappy in their life, even if they are the best of the best trainers. And once you get a rap for being a troublemaker, or difficult, as Borell now has, you aren't likely to get the chance. High end owners, even the good ones, just don't want to deal with it.
What Team McIngvale wanted was a very good groom who had no options who also had her trainers license and had nowhere to go when they started to dictate, which they likely indicated they would. That is what they got. What they likely didn't expect is that the horse would end up being a champion, on the biggest stage on the biggest day in racing. So, the spotlight on his dominant management style would not go unnoticed when he pulled the trigger, as was almost a given to happen at some point. He shined the light on himself here and he has nobody but himself to blame for that.
Trainers, as a rule, are very bad business people and very bad with money. They also make bad deals, don't get stuff in writing, and expect that hucksters like Mack will be good on their word. Which we all know they will not. They live off of the Maria's of the world.
In all likelihood, off the books, a promise was verbally made that she would get paid what others get paid if she got the horse to the point she did and he won the big money. And what is that verbal promise worth at this stage? Jack squat. That is what it is worth.
"When Borell was hired, the McIngvales said, it was with the
understanding that she was salaried and would get bonuses for winning
races, up to $10,000 for graded stakes, and that she would not take on
At the end of the day, if she didn't get it in writing, and the deal was salary plus whatever bonus she was promised, that is what she will get. If she wanted the standard 10%, she should have gotten it in writing. She didn't. Too bad for her. That is how the world works.
“She’s opened a can of worms,” Linda McIngvale said of Borell, “so we
would like to let you know the other side of the story. We’ve been
trying hard not to voice bad things about Maria. At this point, she’s
going a little too far in some areas, primarily with accusations that
Laura would ever, in her wildest dreams, do anything that is not in the
best interest of the horse.”
As for airing this all out on Twitter, Borell shows her immaturity. Maybe it wins her the battle with Mack, but it loses her the war. The war she needed to win. With owners who have money and likely would have forwarded her stock off her job with Runhappy. Now, they see how she acts. How she airs dirty laundry in public, and she is persona non grata with them. That isn't the way this type of thing is handled. If you make your owner look bad in public, even if they are bad, and you are right and they are wrong, you are shooting yourself in the head. And killing your own business.
In Mack's case, he is one bad commercial that didn't work from being a failure in life. You can look that up on Wikipedia. It is common knowledge which he admits to. He got that one right, I guess by accident, and made the most of it. In racing, he has a history of pretty much getting it all wrong. Millions of dollars wrong with very little to show for it. Other than the Breeders Cup that Borell just got him.
There is talk, on the other side, from those that want to pick Mack's side, about Borell's financial situation and not keeping up with paying her bills. You simply have to have been in her position to understand what that means. And doesn't mean.
Borell is like most horse people. And I've been there. It says nothing about their character that they got to the point that they can't pay their bills. Training racehorses is a very risky game with certain periods of time when it all goes against you and you are broke. How she has handled it though does say a bit about her character. She likely could have paid her bills with the money she was earning training the 4 or 5 of Mack's, but she has chose not to. That doesn't help her cause in the court of public opinion.
Linda McIngvale said Borell, who agreed to train privately for Gallery
Racing, was already trying to pick up new clients. “She was, behind our
back, having T shirts, hats and jackets made for her new racing stable.
The reality is she should have made that public after the (King’s
Bishop). She knew we were planning to take the horse to California and
she had said she didn’t want to go. She said, ‘I have family here, I
have horses here.’”
And why wouldn't she have been shopping around for new owners? She would have to know the history of this clown owner and that she would not be in the position she had for long anyway. If anything, it was the smartest thing she has done. She was ahead of the game in this respect, if it pans out and works out for her. The fact she has gotten into a pissing match war of words on social media is something that might take that all away. If I was one of those owners, she would have to explain to me why she did it and that I can trust her in the future to keep private business private. At this point, I don't know if I could be convinced of that.
So what is this ultimately about?
In real terms, its about what, if any, horses Borell can attract in the future in consideration of her possible talent for producing a champion, balanced against her flamboyant and immature attitude towards professionalism.
And conversely, who is next on the chopping block for Mack? Will they demand a written contract? Will they have any talent, or demand in writing certain terms of the training arrangement, with monetary penalties attached? Or will his large bankroll make him attractive to anybody looking for a shot at training a champion like Runhappy?
In my view, longterm, and maybe even short term, they are both losers here. They both botched this. Mack by firing her the day after the BC win, when he could have done it much earlier when he appeared to have justification, and Borell, for fighting her fight, in a nasty and petty way, in the social media forum. They both fucked up here, and that is why it makes it so tough to pick either of their sides.
“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.
According to McIngvale, Borell wanted to give Runhappy the non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone – something the McIngvales oppose. “We
don’t believe in some things that are prevalent in the racing industry,
including drugs,” said Linda McIngvale. Wohlers said “no” and according
to Jim McIngvale Borell reacted with some choice words.
One other point really caught my attention. That was the idea that the ultimate decision to fire Borell on Sunday was due to the fact she was going to give Runhappy Bute and they are dead set against their horses having that. If they had any credibility before that came up, they went straight to zero with that one. Here is why.
99 percent of trainers have used Bute at least once in their career. Myself
included. And I was very holistic in my approach relative to most
trainers. But, you do what is best for the horse. And in my view, giving
a horse some bute and rest is far smarter than taking a somewhat lame
horse to the track to run when they should be resting up and healing.
The blow-up between Borell and Wohlers came Sunday morning when
Wohlers wanted Runhappy to do some light exercise, and Borell objected,
saying the colt had some heat and filling in an ankle after winning the
Sprint the previous day.
“Our horses have always gone to the track (after a race). We want to
get the lactic acid out,” said Linda McIngvale. “He wasn’t injured. He
was a little sore from the race, that’s all.”
As for how they respect animals, in the article it is noted that the filly, Triplehott had arthritic knees and needed to be laid off to have a brighter future, but was jammed into a claimer to rid of her. Contrast that with the statement that the owners don't approve of using Bute, which if used sparingly and for the right reasons, is like giving aspirin to your child when they have a fever.
And finally, about the timing of the firing, and why they didn't do it earlier. There is this statement.
"One area of agreement between the McIngvales and Borell was that
tensions had been mounting ever since Laura Wohlers came to Kentucky and
Runhappy won the G1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga.
“The Saturday before the King’s Bishop, Maria called and said
Runhappy was lame,” Linda McIngvale said. “Mack sent Laura to Kentucky
to find out what’s going on with the horse. When she got there, Laura
insisted the horse be sent to Dr. (Larry) Bramlage (at Rood and Riddle
Equine Hospital), and he found something wrong in his feet – an abscess
or something. He suggested the shoes be pulled and that a blacksmith
named Ian (McKinlay) come from New Jersey. He works on his feet and he
wins the King’s Bishop. If we had left it to Maria, we would not have
gone to the King’s Bishop, or won it.”
Wohlers told the McIngvales she thought she should stay in Kentucky.
“She was very appalled at how the other two horses were being handled,”
Linda McIngvale said. “She said they had sores and the stalls were not
The key question I have for Mack and team is this:
You claim that the horse was lame and needed outside attention because your trainer wasn't doing what needed to be done to get the horse prepared for the Kings Bishop, which you claim you took care of and then the horse won.
If that is truly the case, why didn't you remove the horse from her care then, after the Kings Bishop or just before it? It seems foolish, if I accept your premise, that you would let a BC potential horse stay in the care of a trainer you don't trust, respect or have any faith in to do the right training job. Yet, the horse stayed with her, and you only pulled the horse AFTER the BC win. In fact, less than 24 hours after the BC win.
That just doesn't add up. As most of what you state doesn't. It doesn't pass the smell test. And frankly, it smells really bad. In fact, it stinks. Like just about everything I've read on how you have conducted yourself in the horse business, and in the Furniture business for that matter. That doesn't give Maria Borell any kind of a pass on her faults, but it gives you less than zero credibility in my eyes. If I'm any kind of trainer of note and talent, and you call me to take your horse, or any horse you have in the future, you will get a not so kind "go fuck yourself" and a click. Who needs your kind of interference and aggravation? Nobody who isn't completely desperate and has nothing to lose.
Which means, obviously, that as I write this, Team McIngvale is searching for another Maria Borell type and this situation will play out again, exactly as this one did. As it always does.
Which leaves Borell. The way she has conducted herself in this whole matter makes it very hard to feel sorry for her either. Or pick her side. As I've said already in the title, there is no good side to pick here.
You might even say that both sides got entirely what they deserve. And only that the horse deserves none of that, ran his heart out, and will be the one who suffers most.
As is always the case.