After his day in court and should he be found guilty of the heinous charges of animal cruelty, Ernie Paragallo and his daughters Jennifer and Kristin, must be banned from the sport forever. While that may seem like an obvious conclusion, it's reasonable to question whether racing authorities will do the right thing. This is horse racing, where even the very worst miscreants always seem to be welcomed back.
Allegations that surfaced in newspaper and Internet reports last week that horses owned by Paragallo were found to be malnourished and infested with lice and that still others had been sent to slaughter reminded me of the troubling story of owner and trainer Burton K. Sipp.
Sipp has been in and out of trouble throughout his racing career, but one incident stands out. In 1983, Sipp was investigated by the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Police for allegedly killing horses for insurance reasons and was eventually indicted for fraud. Sipp, who has always maintained his innocence, entered into a plea bargain agreement and plead guilty to the lesser charge of witness tampering.
That, of course, should have been the end of his racing career. In the best-case scenario, he tampered with a witness and is not the type of person who should ever be allowed to take part in a sport that involves gambling and where the integrity of the product is tantamount. In the worst-case scenario, he killed horses for personal gain. No reasonable person could argue that Sipp should ever have been allowed to race again.
But Sipp's penchant for trouble is matched by his determination and stubbornness. He never gave up on the idea of returning to training and found it all too easy to find overly lenient racetracks and racing commissions who were willing to overlook his past when he applied for a license.
By 1993, the worst of Sipp's legal troubles had ended and his probation was lifted. The New Jersey Racing Commission would not grant him a license, but it did lift its suspension against him. That opened the door for him to apply elsewhere and the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission gave him a license. Burton K. Sipp was back.
Over the years, some racing officials have at least tried to make things tough on him. Penn National would not accept any entries from him and won a court case that backed up the track's right to ban him. Perhaps Penn National officials agreed with the New Jersey judge who once called Sipp: ''A man whose lack of integrity is unimpeachable."
But others have looked upon the situation differently. Since 2004, he has raced at Suffolk Downs, Northampton, Mountaineer, Thistledown, Evangeline Downs, Beulah, Delta Downs, Presque Isle Downs, Golden Gate Fields, Turf Paradise, Pinnacle and Turfway Park. That's 12 racetracks, all of which have the right to exclude undesirables, who, apparently, had no problem with Sipp or his past.
When asked by a Boston Globe reporter in 2005 why Sipp had been licensed Suffolk Downs steward Bill Keene said. ''People make mistakes. I'm not a judge." Perhaps Keene or someone at Suffolk Downs has since grown a spine because Sipp has not run a horse there since November 23, 2005. He currently is racing at Beulah and Turfway.
Will Paragallo, should he be found guilty, be so lucky and get a second chance? In some respects, he already has. In 2005, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board revoked Paragallo's owners license for financial irresponsibility after he allegedly failed to pay his bills at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton equine hospital. But Paragallo never missed a beat. He put his Paraneck Stable under the names of daughters Jennifer and Kristen and claimed he was merely an agent for the stable.
This was ridiculous, and everyone knew it. Paragallo remained the true owner of Paraneck, yet no one saw any reason to end the charade. Check out the owners' section in the New York Racing Association's media guide: there's Ernie Paragallo, listed as the owner of Paraneck Stable.
Since the Internet site the Paulick Report first broke the story that Another Chance 4 Horses, a thoroughbred rescue group, found four Paraneck horses in a slaughter pen and in abysmal condition, a firestorm has surrounded Paragallo. No one is taking this lightly, and Paragallo is in serious trouble. He might even land in jail, where, many will argue, he belongs.
Most likely, he is finished in racing, which is what must happen should he be found guilty. And daughters Jennifer and Kristin must also be permanently banned from the sport. But, then again, lawyers will get involved and some smart people will start looking for loopholes. Might someone already be angling to let two more Paragallo daughters, Erica and Valerie, take over the stable? Anything is possible in horse racing. Ask Burton Sipp.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.