On Kentucky Derby Day - when the horse racing world's eyes were on Churchill Downs - 29 unlucky thoroughbreds were dumped at a Pennsylvania auction and may well have earned a one-way ticket to a Canadian slaughter house.
As thousands of spectators sipped mint juleps and derby contenders were pampered by their grooms, these poor horses - most of them broodmares and foals - were stuffed in cramped pens awaiting sale at Mel Hoover's auction in New Holland.
Some were pregnant mares. Many were skinny, scarred and had visible sores.
The animal welfare group Animals Angels was on hand to document the May 7 auction and traced the horses' tattoo numbers to breeder Gerard Chiusolo who owns a horse farm in Paris, KY. He had been boarding the horses at L'Cima Ranch in Orefield, Pa. Owner John Duarte said he sold the horses because Chiusolo owed him $97,000 in board, according to Animals Angels.
Among the horses being sold was the stallion "Auto Pilot" and broodmare "My Top Saint," once high profile horses. "My Top Saint" was bred to Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus and produced a foal priced at $50,000.
Animals Angels founder Sonja Meadows said rescues and non-track buyers were able to purchase 27 of the thoroughbreds. The Westminster, Md., group conducts investigations of auctions and slaughter houses around the country.
The group documented horrifying conditions at a March auction at Mel Hoover's where many seriously ill and badly injured horses were put up for sale.
Humane agents working for the Humane League of Lancaster County responded to a call from Animals Angels to investigate conditions at the auction, but no cruelty charges were filed, officials with Lancaster Humane said.