Death of A Racehorse. Or, Was It Murder?
An animal lawyer revisits a 1990 equine case
“I was not convinced it was an accident,” says Fred Kray, a retired animal lawyer. “As an attorney, I thought there were too many coincidences.”
After more than 3 decades, Fred Kray 's fascination with Alydar’s mysterious death in 1990 led him to release a book, ‘Broken’, and create an innovative website, www.FredMKray.com, where readers can render a verdict based on the evidence he presents.
A life-long animal lover, Kray's passion for racehorses goes back to his first job when he worked as a parimutuel clerk at a track. His interest in Alydar began in 1978 when he watched the 3-year-old thunder to the finish line at the Flamingo Stakes.Foaled in 1975 on Calumet Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, Alydar was one of the leading thoroughbreds of the 20th century. He placed in 24 of his 26 career races, earning almost $1 million in purse money for his owners.
The chestnut stallion was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1989 and ranked #27 in the top 100 of U.S. thoroughbred champions by Blood-Horse Magazine.
On the track, Alydar was best known for his rivalry with Affirmed, the 1978 Triple Crown winner who beat him by 1½ lengths at the Kentucky Derby, then by a neck at the Preakness, and then by a head at Belmont.
The last chase in New York saw one of the most exciting runs in the sport’s history when the galloping beasts dueled side-by-side from the middle of the far turn until the finish line.
Following his racing career, Alydar became Calumet’s main cash producer in the breeding shed. He served 100 mares a year, which made him the top sire of the day commanding $200,000 in stud fees.
His foals who went on to win Grade 1 stakes included Alysheba (1987 Kentucky Derby & Preakness), Easy Goer (1989 Belmont), Strike the Gold (1991 Kentucky Derby) and many others.
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But on the night of November 13, 1990, Alydar was found in his stall at Calumet Farm with his hind leg shattered. Emergency surgery was performed the next day, but the 15-year-old broke his leg again under his own weight and on November 15, he was put to sleep.
The official report concluded that Alydar apparently kicked the stall door with such great force that his leg was entangled in the broken wall and when he tried to pull it back it became injured.
But according to Kray, whose legal experience with animals range from kidnapped Great Danes to divorce settlements around family pets, Alydar’s tragic accident raises suspicion.
“Even the Lexington horse community did not believe it,” he notes.
In the years leading up to Alydar’s death, the horse racing industry was booming, flush with oil money and Japanese investments. But then the bottom fell out, compounded by the loss of certain horse related tax credits.
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Caught in that downturn was Calumet Farm, a storied horse breeding operation that lay claim to a tradition of stakes winners, including Triple Crown champions Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1945).
Unknown to the public, Calumet was struggling with loan repayments and insurance premiums. Its owner, J.T. Lundy, a good-old-boy who had married into the blue-blooded family that ran the farm for generations, went on lavish spending sprees that loaded Calumet’s balance sheet with debt.
In October of 1990, First City National Bank of Houston threatened Calumet with foreclosure unless $15 million of their $50 million loan was repaid. In early November, Golden Eagle, one of Alydar’s 2 insurance carriers, notified the farm they would not renew Alydar’s equine mortality policy past December.
At the time, the stallion’s risk coverage was the most lucrative in the industry- $36.5 million from Lloyds of London and $5 million from Golden Eagle.
The claim on Alydar’s self-inflicted injury and subsequent death was accepted by Lloyds of London and Golden Eagle (though, reluctantly) and a total payout of $41.5 million was approved, the highest in equine history.
Lundy managed to stave off the bank, but only temporarily. Within months, Calumet filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Though, during the proceedings, an entire world of fraud and mismanagement at Calumet was exposed. First City’s Vice-Chairman, Frank Cihak, was approving loans to Calumet in exchange for bribes and breeding access for his own personal equine interests.
Lundy had also introduced pre-paid lifetime breeding rights that left Calumet short of cash. For an upfront fee of $2.5 million, owners could breed their mares once a year for as long as Alydar could fulfill the function.
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Years of investigation and a trial followed. In 2000, Lundy was slapped with a 4½-year jail sentence for bank fraud, conspiracy, and bribery convictions.
Frank Cihak was convicted twice for bank fraud and extensive kickback schemes, receiving a 12½-year sentence in the first trial and a 22-year sentence in the second trial.
Separately, First City National Bank, once the largest independent bank holding company in Texas, went into federal receivership and its assets liquidated.
It’s against this background that Kray explores the circumstances and evidence around Alydar’s death. In his opinion, the track champion was most likely killed in order to collect on the insurance.
“Nobody heard of a horse who, alone in his stall at 10 o’clock at night, kicks the door so fiercely that he breaks his cannon bone,” he points out.
Kray notes that hoof damages to the door weren’t sufficiently evident in the photos presented by Lloyds of London when they evaluated the claim. Alydar’s grooms also agreed that he wasn’t in the habit of kicking his stall door.
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Another item the author illuminates is that the regular watchman on duty, Cowboy Kipp, was replaced by another guard, Alton Stone, on the fateful night of November 13th. Kipp was ordered to take that night off but with no explanation.
Kray interviewed 27 people for his book, including Terry McVeigh, the adjuster at Golden Eagle, and Tom Dixon, the adjuster at Lloyds of London.
McVeigh mentioned that horse murders were not uncommon in the business and were done by hired ‘hitmen’ at the direction of unscrupulous equine owners.
Kray spoke with Tommy Burns, a convicted horse killer who spent time in jail. Burns’ preferred method was electrocution, but when Kray showed him photos of Alydar’s leg, he was convinced it was done intentionally with a crow bar.
At Lundy’s trial, Government lawyers did suggest that Alydar was killed for insurance money, but they couldn’t prove it. U.S. District Court Judge Sim Lake noted in his final words before sentencing Lundy:“I am not able to conclude by a preponderance of evidence that Mr. Lundy is responsible for the death of Alydar”.
The case wasn't pursued any further but more than 30 years on, Kray’s mission to expose the truth behind Alydar’s death is now academic, since the statute of limitations had run out.
Still, given Alydar’s legendary place in racing history, it remains a mystery worth exploring.
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