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ARTICLE: Mystery in the Bluegrass: Who Poisoned the Horses?
The New York Times
By BILL MOONEY
VERSAILLES, Ky., July 20 — Wild-Eyed & Wicked was the Secretariat of show horses. Twice, the 11-year-old gelded saddlebred, valued at more than $1 million, had swept the five-gaited Triple Crown.
But Wild-Eyed & Wicked will never win another trophy or ribbon. On July 17, he and his 2-year-old gelded stablemate, Meet Prince Charming, were euthanized, almost three weeks after someone entered their stalls at the Double D Ranch on the night of June 28 and injected poison into their forelegs.
Three other saddlebreds at the ranch, near Lexington, were poisoned that night: Cat's Don't Dance, a 6-year-old gelding; Sassational, a 3-year-old filly; and Kiss Me, a 4-year-old filly.
Kiss Me was euthanized on July 18. Cat's Don't Dance was sent to the Hagyard-Davidson-McGee veterinary clinic in Lexington, where medical officials are guardedly optimistic about his chance of recovering. Sassational is expected to recover.
"But three of our horses were murdered," said David Lopez, a co-owner of Double D, with his wife, Dena. "I can't describe the agony they experienced."
The Kentucky State Police and the commonwealth's attorney for Woodford County are investigating the poisonings.
On the night they occurred, the front gate was opened, the watchdogs were in the house and the Lopezes were not at home.
All of the horses, with the exception of Sassational, had been scheduled to compete in the Lexington Junior League Horse Show, July 7-12, the first competition in the Triple Crown for American saddlebreds and an event that Wild-Eyed & Wicked had won in 2000 and in 2001. He also won the other jewels in the crown, the World's Championship Horse Show in Louisville and the American Royal Saddle Horse Show in Kansas City, Mo., for those years.
Wild-Eyed & Wicked's owners, Joe and Sally Jackson of Overland Park, Kan., had insured him, but only for a token amount, the Lopezes said.
The United Professional Horsemen's Association; USA Equestrian, which regulates championship horse shows; and private contributors are offering a reward of at least $100,000 for information leading to a conviction in the poisonings, said Karen Richardson, the association's executive secretary.
Investigators say they have no idea who poisoned the horses or what poison was used.
Dr. Ric Redden, who is leading the veterinary team that treated the horses, said the poison was injected into the hind side of the left foreleg of each horse.
"The agent denied blood circulation to the lower leg tissue, which destroyed it," Dr. Redden said.
Dr. Carol McLeod, another member of the veterinary team, added, "It kept eating away the tissue. It wouldn't stop."
Among the possible poisons is a massive dose of cobra venom. But Dr. Redden said the poison was probably less exotic. "One of dozens of things you'd find in a hardware store, or in a supermarket's cleaning supplies section," he said.
In the case of Wild-Eyed & Wicked, the area just below the left knee swelled to twice its normal size and became infected. Farther down his leg, just above the hoof, an egg-sized portion of the flesh dissolved.
"When a horse's leg is injured, his instinct forces him to keep it raised to avoid the pain," said Bridget Parker, the purchasing agent for the Double D Ranch. "But these animals weigh 1,000 pounds, and the stress of that weight then becomes concentrated on the other leg."
Ms. Parker said that Wild-Eyed & Wicked also developed laminitis, an inflammation of the layers of the hoof caused by poor blood circulation in a leg. Severe laminitis may cause a horse to literally step out of a hoof.
"Nearing the end, he couldn't stand up," Ms. Parker said.
Horse tampering is not not unknown in Kentucky. In 1996, someone shoved sponges up the noses of 10 thoroughbreds at the state's racetracks. No one has been charged.
Those cases led to enactment of a law making tampering with horses a Class D felony in Kentucky, punishable by one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 for each count, said Gordon W. Shaw, the commonwealth's attorney. "There'd be other charges attached, too, including misdemeanors."
At Double D, there has also been an emotional toll.
Saloman Gallegos, Wild-Eyed & Wicked's groom, said he spent weeks praying the horse would survive. Dena Lopez put a video camera in Wild-Eyed & Wicked's stall. She would lie in bed, "keeping a close eye on him throughout the night," she said.
The Lopezes bought Wild-Eyed & Wicked for the Jacksons in 1997. At the time, the gelding's résumé was undistinguished. But under Mrs. Lopez's training, the horse became a world champion.
In five-gaited competition, horses are judged by their performance in three natural movements — walk, trot and canter — and are taught two movements, the slow gait and the rack, a gait in which each hoof hits the ground separately in a four-beat cadence.
Meet Prince Charming was also of championship stock, winning two competitions this year.
The Lopezes say that whoever invaded their barn initially mistook Sassational for Meet Prince Charming.
"She has the same markings — a white star on the forehead, white socks on her rear legs, a silver mane and tail," Mrs. Lopez said.
Sassational received a low dose of poison, the veterinarians said. She also got a knot in her stomach, possible caused by a kick, suggesting she fought the intruder.
Wild-Eyed & Wicked and Meet Prince Charming were buried at Double D without autopsies, which is unusual for prominent show horses. "We have photos and hours of videos detailing the injuries and their treatments," Ms. Parker said. "We know what happened. We just don't know why."
Kiss Me was cremated, except for her forelegs, which were sent to the University of Kentucky's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center for examination.
On a table in the Double D office is a large jar of green peppermints labeled, "For `Wicked' Only!" The Lopezes' daughter, Alyssa, 13, kept it filled. She loved treating her favorite horse.
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