Scroll through the list of Thoroughbreds registered with The Jockey Club, and you’re sure to find some odd names. Take, for instance, 2007 Kentucky Derby contender Imawildandcrazyguy or, yes, Brangelina. But imagine being the person who approved the registration for Left For Dead.
Turns out the moniker is pretty significant. Born in 2013, the Pennsylvania-bred gelding (Offlee Wild—Princess Megan, El Corredor) was one of 43 horses seized in Mercer County, Kentucky, in 2016 in a sensational abuse case centered around Breeders’ Cup race-winning trainer Maria Borrell and her father, Chuck Borrell.
Though she doesn’t remember Left For Dead specifically, Carrie Gilbert was involved in caring for the horses before they were removed from the property. A farm owner in the Lexington, Kentucky-area, Gilbert had helped a client place her Thoroughbred Silver Cliff with Maria years prior. When she heard rumors the horses weren’t being cared for properly she offered to take the gelding back but received no response. Shortly afterward state officials discovered the extent of the abuse and began taking steps to seize the horses.
Though not all of the horses on the property were in dire shape, they all needed basic care such as vaccinations and worming. Two of the Thoroughbreds, Silver Cliff and Z Camelot, were given body scores of less than 2.
“When we loaded Silver Cliff and Z Camelot on the horse trailer, my friend Carleigh [Fedorka] and I could basically pick them up,” said Gilbert. “We locked arms and basically pushed them on the trailer. They were just so light and so weak. There was no grass out there whatsoever. Many of them were locked in stalls that hadn’t been cleaned in God only knows how long.”
The Kentucky Thoroughbred community came together by raising funds, soliciting donations and giving the horses temporary or permanent homes. Several of the horses went to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and others were returned to their original owners.
“Over time it was learned that many of them did have owners, and they weren’t Maria’s; she had conned them into thinking their horses died that actually didn’t die,” said Gilbert. “Through the media we were able to raise a ton of funds. We had donations of hay, shavings, medical supplies. Vets and farriers came out and offered their time until all of them, thankfully, were removed from the property.
“I’ve never seen the community quite come together like that and that quickly before,” she continued. “It took a little time; it wasn’t flawless, but in the end all the horses ended up safe.”
Left For Dead was 3 when the horses were removed from Maria’s care, and he hadn’t yet raced. He made his racing debut at Turfway Park (Kentucky) under the training and ownership of Geoff Mulcahy in 2018 at 5. He was then purchased by Giacole Stables and trained under Pennsylvania-based Steve Krebs for just over a year.
“He was a really sweet and kind horse,” said Krebs. “One girl that helped me, she got on him a few times and said he would make a great show horse because he would respond to her legs. She said, ‘He’ll do anything I want him to do.’ ”
Krebs said Left For Dead seemed to have come out of his early neglect with no serious long-lasting effects. The only odd thing that he could attribute to his past was that the horse would pile straw over his feed bucket on the wall on a daily basis. “I don’t know if he was trying to hide it for later, but that was always something that was in the back of my mind,” he recalled.
After a lackluster career and continued issues with the starting gate, Krebs placed him with the Thoroughbred aftercare program Turning For Home in June of 2019. Danielle Montgomery, the program’s director, gave him to Lara Anderson of Full Gallop Farm because she thought he would be a good event prospect.
Left For Dead arrived at Anderson’s Aiken, South Carolina, farm shortly after his final race on June 25 last year.
“He was pretty up and pretty intense I would say,” Anderson said of the gelding’s arrival. “And absolutely gorgeous and beautiful. This beautiful black horse that carries himself very well and has a very majestic look about him, and he was well taken care of. He came in looking absolutely amazing.”
Since Anderson works with many Thoroughbreds, she keeps their Jockey Club names, just adding the FGF prefix to their show names. Each horse’s barn name is related to its registered one. The obvious choice was Lefty, but she already had one of those on property. One of the women who rides for Anderson suggested “Mort,” from the Latin root word meaning death.
Mort started his retraining at Full Gallop Farm, and like many of Anderson’s incoming projects, he spent a lot of time learning ground manners and to self-load. She said he was always easy to handle and took to the work.
“He has got an incredibly scopey jump,” Anderson continued. “He can jump from anywhere. Doesn’t take offense to anything. Does take a joke. We’ve had a stark amateur on him all the way to professionals, and he’s been absolutely great with it. He can get a little strong, but you can get him back with a half-halt pretty easily. He is not afraid of anything. This horse will take anything on, water, ditches, banks. It doesn’t matter. He just really has a heck of a drive and a heck of a work ethic.”
Jessica Schultz, who operates Fair Play Farm nearby, has worked regularly with Anderson for several years, and when she had space in her barn, she picked Mort as one of her newest charges.
“He’s tough as nails,” said Schultz. “He has a little hard mouth and a little tight back, but he’s been really bold and game from the start. He’s incredibly sweet on the ground. It’s a shame people do things like that.”
Schultz competed Mort at beginner novice twice this year, finishing on his dressage score both times, with plans to move up to novice before events were suspended due to the coronavirus. Like all of Anderson’s projects, he’s for sale so that she can continue to restart Thoroughbreds off the track.
“He’s been fun,” said Schultz. “He’s one of those horses that you hope has a fairy-tale ending.”