ERNIE PARAGALLO earned a reputation in thoroughbred racing as a brash, outspoken, hands-on owner who wasn't afraid to meddle in the day-to-day decisions of his trainers. Yet after his arrest last Friday on 22 counts of animal cruelty, the 51-year-old investment banker suddenly came across as oblivious. New York state police and animal welfare officials seized 177 horses, all suffering from various stages of malnutrition and neglect, from his 511-acre Center Brook Farm in Climax, N.Y. Paragallo apologized for "mismanagement" and said he hadn't visited the facility in nine months. "It wasn't knowing neglect," he said of the breeding operation that was manned by workers, who told investigators they hadn't been paid in weeks, and according to another source, were given only a three-week supply of food to last the winter.
Last month an equine rescue organization found four undernourished horses owned by Paragallo in a New York kill pen, the final stop before the slaughterhouse. That incident, along with complaints from concerned owners of broodmares boarded at the farm, prompted the police, the Columbia-Green Humane Society and an official from the New York Racing Association to raid Center Brook on April 8. According to one official, the scene was "a disaster," with emaciated horses confined to manure-filled stalls.
Paragallo's racing career is almost certainly over; last Friday the New York State Racing and Wagering Board banned him from any involvement in the sport within the state. He rose to prominence in the fall of 1995, when his brilliant colt Unbridled's Song won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Sent off as the Kentucky Derby favorite the following spring, Unbridled's Song, who went on to become one of the country's top sires, finished fifth—and Paragallo never had another racehorse of quite that caliber.