Congratulations on winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint and, oh, by the way, you're fired.
That was the bizarre scenario that played out Sunday as Runhappy's trainer, Maria Borell, took to Twitter to announce that she had been fired by owner Jim McIngvale less than 24 hours after her horse won the Sprint and sewed up an Eclipse Award. Borell wrote on Twitter: "Just went from the best day of my life to the worst day of my life."
Reportedly, McIngvale's racing manager and Runhappy's former trainer, Laura Wohlers, wanted to send Runhappy out for training Sunday morning. According to Borell, she disagreed with Wohlers, and was fired as a result. Wohlers, who is McIngvale's sister-in-law, will take over again as the trainer.
"My heart is in a million pieces," Borell wrote.
To begin with, no one in their right mind sends a horse to the track the day after it has raced. Worse yet, Borell says Runhappy had filling and heat in an ankle, making it all the more insane that someone would want to train the horse Sunday morning.
Afterward, a statement was posted on Runhappy's Facebook page that said there was nothing wrong with the horse and the decision was made to return the horse to Wohlers prior to the Breeders' Cup, win or lose.
So was the horse in good physical condition after the Breeders' Cup, and was the decision to fire Borell made before or after the race? It doesn't matter. This is all about an outrageous move to fire someone who hadn't done a good job -- she had done a perfect job.
Runhappy was 1-for-2 for Wohlers, winning a maiden race at Turfway before finishing ninth in the Lecomte at the Fair Grounds. Obviously, they turned over a talented horse to Borell at the time, but his lone success had come in a maiden race at a B-level racetrack. It was Borell who turned him into a world-beater. For her, he won allowance races at Indiana Downs and Ellis Park and then the Grade 1 King's Bishop and the Grade 3 Phoenix.
The next step, the Breeders' Cup Sprint, was not supposed to be easy. It would be the toughest field the son of Super Saver had ever faced, and some believed that his habit of breaking slowly was going to be a problem he would have a hard time overcoming. Instead, Runhappy again ran sensationally, winning by three-quarters of a length in the track-record time of 1:08.58.
Borell ends her association with Runhappy after going 5-for-5 with the colt, having made McIngvale $1.84 million in purses (not to mention what the horse is now worth as a stallion), winning a Breeders' Cup race and wrapping up an Eclipse Award for outstanding sprinter.
Imagine a football coach going undefeated through the regular season, winning the Super Bowl and getting fired the next morning. That's pretty much what happened to Borell.
Then again, when it comes to McIngvale, the bizarre is commonplace. According to an article in the Blood-Horse, McIngvale had previously fired 33 trainers, including superstars such as Bob Baffert and Bobby Frankel.
The irony is that the only reason Borell got the horse in the first place is that McIngvale insists on making off-the-wall decisions with his race horses and employees. She was a young, inexperienced trainer who had failed to win a single race in 22 tries before getting Runhappy, and no one other than someone who thinks way, way, way outside the box would have given her the horse.
But Borell grabbed the opportunity and ran with it, proving that when given a chance with a good horse, she could get the job done. Prior to Sunday's announcement, Borell's win with Runhappy was the feel-good story of the Breeders' Cup and it was easy to paint McIngvale as, yes, an eccentric, but also as someone who was willing to take a chance on a trainer no one else would. For a brief moment, he was actually the good guy.
So much for that.
What McIngvale did to Borell was heartless and makes absolutely no sense. How do you take a horse away from a trainer who got you a Breeders' Cup win and return it a trainer who accomplished almost nothing with the same horse? That's also the same trainer who wanted to take a horse to the track a day after it raced, a totally unconventional move that any top horseman will tell you is a major mistake.
Wohlers is also a trainer who has come in and out of the game because she has to divide her time between the horses and working in McIngvale's Houston furniture store. She is a 12 percent career winner whose biggest win came in the 2000 Bucharest Stakes at Sam Houston.
The hope now is that Borell lands on her feet and that owners noticed the work she did with Runhappy and give her quality horses to train. Once again, she's a young trainer who needs a break, and no one is more deserving of one.