MERCER COUNTY, KY (WAVE) - Horse lover Angie Cheak gets a lump in her throat describing what she found in the barns and paddock of a leased farm off of Martin Lane in Mercer County earlier this month.
"The water, the feed, the hay situation was dire," she said.
Photographs went viral on social media; thoroughbreds with sores on their backs, ribs showing. Hooves in need of trimming. The outcry began drawing attention from equine industry standards such as the Daily Racing Form and Blood Horse.
Tuesday, investigators from the State Veterinarian's office in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture took four of more than 40 thoroughbreds to private clinics for urgent care and observations.
"I can't tell you what for, specifically, that's part of the investigation," Ag inspector Shane Mitchell said Tuesday.
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State and county investigators believe the horses had been entrusted to the care of Maria Borell, a Lexington-based thoroughbred trainer whose colt, Run Happy, took the Breeder's Cup Sprint at Keeneland last November.
"I hope it's not a dream, and I wake up and it's all over," Borell had told an interviewer for At The Races days earlier.
The dream developed cracks quickly. Owner James McIngvale dropped her as Run Happy's trainer. She's suing.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has put her licenses on hold, following a court judgement involving a creditor, executive director Marc Guilfoil said.
"I can't speak for other states, but it's a very tight knit-group as far as honoring other's reciprocal agreements," Guilfoil said. "Other suspensions from other jurisdictions. We'll be watching this situation in Mercer County very closely."
Cheak became involved at the request of Borell's father, industry veteran Charles "Chuck" Borell, she said.
"He'd heard some complaints that some horses were underfed," Cheak said.
"Mr. Borell had told me at that time that they had hired someone to take care of the horses, and did not know the condition they had got into until they came back and seen it," Sheriff Ernie Kelty said.
Maria Borell's cellphone was not accepting calls Tuesday. Calls to Chuck Borell have not been returned.
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"These horses did not get in this condition overnight," Cheak said. "It will take a long time to get them back into good shape."
Neither Mitchell nor Sheriff Kelty would speculate what charges might be leveled, or who might face them.
A GoFundMe online account had raised more than $13,000 to cover food and veterinary expenses.
"If I could say something face-to-face to Maria Borell right now, it would be 'take responsibility,'" Cheak said. "Relinquish those horses. Get out of this industry. And get some help."