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He Is Not Dead Yet!

Thorn Song

Have you seen this horse?

Yesterday morning, G1-winning millionaire Thorn Song was dead.  By the afternoon, he was miraculously alive.  As for today – who can say?  Let’s have a look at the chronology (as far as we know at this point):

May 25, 2009Thorn Song wins the Shoemaker Mile for trainer Dale Romans; it is his first win since the previous October.

July 4, 2009Thorn Song finishes a decent fourth in the Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs.

July 25th, 2009Thorn Song is entered in the Eddie Read Handicap, his first start for trainer Mike Mitchell, who has changed his blinkers slightly – Thorn Song bolts and is pulled up in the race.

August 2, 2009 – North American Specialty Insurance indicates this as the ‘loss date‘ in Zayat Stables horse mortality claim regarding Thorn Song.

August 13, 2009The DRF reports that Thorn Song has been sent to Alamo Pintado Equine Clinic with severe abscesses in both front feet; Mitchell deems the Breeders’ Cup Mile very unlikely indeed.

October 25, 2009 – North American Specialty Insurance cuts a check for $2.75 million to Zayat Stables; the check indicates it is for ‘HORSE MORTALITY THORN SONG LIMIT LESS DED.’

December 15, 2009 – Fifth Third Bank sues Zayat Stables for defaulting on two loans; the bank claims it is owed $34,265,970.

January 4, 2010 – Fifth Third Banks asks that a receiver be appointed to oversee the horses listed as collateral by Zayat Stables.

February 3, 2010 – Zayat Stables LLC files for bankruptcy protection.  Creditors include Dale Romans, Mike Mitchell and ‘veterinarians and equine clinics,’  among others.

February 9, 2010 – Fifth Third Bank claims that Zayat Stables hid the proceeds from Thorn Song’s mortality claim.

February 9, 2010 – Mitchell responds that Thorn Song is not, in fact, dead.

February 9, 2010 – Blood-Horse editor Dan Liebman suggests ‘Ahmed Zayat is exactly the type of person the Thoroughbred industry needs…’

So, what does this all mean? It would seem that the insurance company now owns Thorn Song, whose current condition is anybody’s guess; Mitchell added some more details to his previous statements, although there are no certainties:

“He was foundering in his foot. The circulation was very poor. We kept getting reports that it was getting better, then it was getting worse; it was good, it was bad. Finally, the vets told us they were going to put him down and so the insurance company paid off on the horse. But then he started to improve and they decided to keep the horse.

“As far as I know, he is alive and doing well. He is at Alamo Pintado now and he could stand. I think the insurance company took ownership of the horse.

“My boss, Mr. Zayat, spent a lot of money to keep the horse alive and safe. He did everything an owner is supposed to do.”

All quite heartwarming – but it still raises questions.  If the horse foundered (certainly not an uncommon occurrence, given his existing foot problems), why not just say so when it first happened? The loss date of August 2 was only a little over a week after Thorn Song took off in the Eddie Read – was the horse already in such bad shape that they were prepared to put him down at the time?

Granted, there can be sudden improvements and declines in these situations, and Thorn Song is by Unbridled’s Song, so the popular impression is that his feet could simply shear off at any time, but it highlights two disturbing points on the same continuum: on one end, it suggests that money (or the lack thereof) was such a concern that a week was ‘long enough’ to try to treat a valuable horse before giving up and deciding to cash in on his insurance policy?

Conversely, is he now being kept alive in order that there might be some sort of stud career payoff (for someone, for some reason) down the line?  It’s also entirely possible that the loss date is entirely notional – just a number picked out of the air to complete paperwork.

And so on to other questions – who is paying his current vet bills?  The insurance company has already parted with a large sum of money – are they willing to continue doing so?  Or has he been re-sold to a third party, or perhaps donated to the clinic for research purposes (and, one presumes, a tax write-off)? Zayat indicated that Thorn Song had been turned over to Alamo Pintado for continued treatment as part of their research program (as an ex-Penn Vet employee, I can assure you that still requires the ongoing injection of cash, even if it’s not the owner paying directly – injured horses are expensive horses, even when simply taking into account their basic care and feeding) – but under what terms?

And again – if that was the case, why keep quiet about it? Even the IEAH folk have been getting good press for their ongoing (and expensive) efforts to pull Kip Deville through his laminitis battle – if there is truly an all-out effort to save Thorn Song’s life, why not make that the narrative?  If nothing else, it’s a little good publicity in the midst of an ugly situation for all parties involved, and it could help bring in additional outside funds for the clinic.

Presumably conflicting reports will continue to trickle out as the drama between Fifth Third Bank and Zayat continues to play out, but for this small part of the picture, there are two simple questions – where is Thorn Song, and how is he doing?

Update, February 12: Thorn Song is indeed alive, and is doing much better (although he is still undergoing extensive treatment). While this is encouraging news, imagine the good will that might have been engendered with a simple press release to update all concerned about his status – perhaps now, some research money will flow.

In closing, I offer this for a bit of levity:

7 comments to He Is Not Dead Yet!

  • Great re-cap. I met this guy when he was still with Romans in the summer of 2008–I nicknamed him then the “treat whore” because he was so shameless about seeking carrots and could inhale them by the dozens. Keep following the trail! Wonder if anyone at Alamo Pintada would talk to you?

  • You left out that Elvis was spotted grooming Thorn Song last week.

  • scorptraduh

    I completely agree with Teresa. The timeline setup of your article makes a confusing picture much clearer.

    Couldn’t someone at the clinic just snap a quick cellphone picture of Thorn Song?

    I can’t believe HRTV isn’t all over this, esp. since they are based in California…

  • LindaVA

    Thanks for clarifying this mess. I think the clinic could just snap a pic of him and his tattoo and end all the speculation of “is he or isn’t he”? I hope he is.

  • Usually, once the insurance company takes over, their vets work on the horse and they pay the bills. If they can save the horse, they’d be in a position to recoup all or some of their outlay.

    I mentioned this the other day on Twitter, but a famous case of an insurance company paying a mortality claim and taking over a horse was the saga of Your Host — the sire of Kelso. They were able to save the horse that gave us a 5-time HOTY. Let’s hope the same happens with Thorn Song.

  • Glimmerglass

    Perhaps you have to add in the obligatory “.. and Zayat cried” element the BloodHorse had today.

    The cynic in me said that was called out so loudly in the article to try and soften the out of touch supporting position the Editor In Chief had with Zayat.

  • Great post. Crazy how many basic errors the media can get away with simply because they don’t care.

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