The following, based on her own painstaking investigation, was written by our Joy Aten. Please read, then share…
Racing owner/trainer Burton Sipp sold five TB racehorses at the November 3 Lolli Bros. horse auction – at least two of the five were sold to a kill buyer. The West Virginia Racing Commission (WVRC) and Mountaineer Racetrack have an anti-slaughter policy but have chosen not to hold Sipp in violation of it. The following log reveals the incompetence and complicity of the WVRC and Mountaineer personnel.
On October 26, I shared the following on a social media post – racing owner/trainer Burton Sipp was planning to bring seven racing Thoroughbreds to the November 3 Lolli Bros. Horse auction in Missouri. The auction’s catalogue listed the following horses with Sipp identified as the owner:
*Sue Them All, 2009 dark bay gelding, racing O/T Burton Sipp, last raced for Sipp on October 17, 2018 at Mountaineer. Hip #135.
*Papa’s Paisley, 2011 bay gelding, racing O/T Burton Sipp, last raced for Sipp on October 7, 2018 at Mountaineer. Hip #140.
*I Know Thats Right, 2013 bay gelding, racing O/T Burton Sipp, last raced for Sipp on October 3, 2018 at Mountaineer. Hip #136.
*Adorable Twirl, 2013 dark bay gelding, racing O/T Burton Sipp, last raced for Sipp on September 24, 2018 at Mountaineer. Hip #138.
*Goodin Puddin, 2015 dark bay filly, racing O/T Wayne Rice, last raced for Rice on September 12, 2018 at Presque Isle Downs. Hip #139.
*Eye to Thrill, 2013 dark bay gelding, racing O/T Burton Sipp, last raced for Sipp on September 24, 2018 at Mountaineer. Hip #148.
*Kentucky Flame, 2013 chestnut mare, racing O/T Burton Sipp, last raced for Sipp on October 9, 2018 at Mountaineer. Hip #151.
The post had nearly 700 comments. The majority were outraged over the horses being sold at auction, knowing full well the risk of kill buyers and/or dealers purchasing any or all of the seven horses. Some individuals didn’t “appreciate” my revealing of the information and claimed that if Sipp became aware of the post, he wouldn’t be inclined to sell the horses to advocates instead of taking them to auction (and how would anyone even know to attempt to purchase the horses had I NOT provided the information?). And then there were those – I bet you can guess where their loyalties lie – who exclaimed: “Well at least Sipp is giving them a chance [by selling them at auction]!”
Also included in the comments were several from a trainer who spewed the same old line – Sipp is just one bad apple and most owners responsibly rehome their racehorses – and, in his best impersonation of a hero, said HE would bring this outrage to the Mountaineer stewards. He also promised follow-up in the post (which he never did). As it turns out, this trainer’s own filly – Dewdrop’s Heart – was found in a Bowie, Texas, feedlot less than four months after she last raced for him – but of course, it wasn’t HIS doing…HE had responsibly rehomed her. Right.
Several individuals commented that they had tried to get in contact with Sipp (before the auction) but were unable to. November 3 came and went, and there was no evidence that any of the seven had been acquired to spare them the nearly 800-mile trip to auction.
*I Know Thats Right (noted to have a swollen knee), sold for $625
*Adorable Twirl, sold for $775
*Goodin Puddin, sold for $710
*Eye to Thrill, sold for $575
*Kentucky Flame, sold for $600
*9-year-old Sue Them All and 7-year-old Papa’s Paisley were not brought to the auction. In a PM from Sipp, this (verbatim) regarding Sue Them All: “He was sold going to Canada has [sic] a riding horse.” Canada doesn’t have enough riding horses? Someone there wants a 9-year-old racehorse with osslets as their riding horse? Sure.
It was confirmed that Goodin Puddin and Eye to Thrill were purchased by a buyer for Stanley’s, operator of the Lone Star Kill Pen and Auction AND its “sister” lot, the Ark-La Ship Pen, at the Lolli auction and arrived at the Lone Star Kill Pen and Auction (LSKPA) on November 6. Imagine that – from West Virginia to Missouri to Texas in less than a week. Eye to Thrill was purchased for $975 from the kill buyer before the LSKPA site was made current with its available horses. But Goodin Puddin was listed there and she was subsequently purchased for $1275.
My first of many phone calls to Mountaineer Racetrack regarding the confirmed sale of Goodin Puddin and Eye to Thrill to a kill buyer was on November 8. Mary Lou Pietranton, executive assistant to Mountaineer VP/GM Bill Winkelried, put me through to Director of Racing Jim Colvin’s number after I apprised her of the situation, but I was only able to leave him a detailed message. So I called Pietranton right back and she assured me that Winkelried would call me that day. He never did.
On November 9, I called again, but got only voice mail. I then called Mountaineer steward Maureen Andrews – she listened but told me I needed to speak with the chief steward, Jim O’Brien. Now on my third call in less than five minutes, I didn’t reach O’Brien at the chief steward’s number but another steward, Phil Heidenreich, answered. He was already aware of the situation because my post had been shared with the Mountaineer stewards.
It was difficult to get a word in with Heidenreich as he babbled on about how the kill buyers “take advantage of bleeding hearts” and there wouldn’t be any Thoroughbreds going to slaughter if it were not for the kill buyers (brilliant). He then declared that none of the Sipp horses at Lolli were bought by kill buyers because Sipp said so. Sipp SAID SO. In fact, he continued, Sipp grumbled that NEXT TIME he was going to bring a saddle so the horses could be ridden in the auction ring because, according to Heidenreich, “horses ridden with saddles aren’t bought by the kill buyers.” God’s honest truth – Sipp said so, Heidenreich prattled. I asked that O’Brien call me back since that is who I had called to speak with. I was told he would. He didn’t.
On November 11, Heidenreich left a VM saying that I needed to e-mail the stewards with my “complaint” and he provided an address. On November 12, I tried the number on my caller ID from Heidenreich’s call the day before but there was no answer and no option to leave a VM. I sent the email to the stewards at 10:30 that morning. By November 15, I had not received a reply, so I sent a second. Again, no response.
On November 18, I tried chief steward Jim O’Brien’s number again – and again, Heidenreich answered. It was more of the same: the stewards met with Sipp and Sipp said he didn’t sell any horses to a kill buyer; Sipp is going to bring saddles next time; the kill buyers’ intentions are NOT to send horses to slaughter but to sell them to bleeding hearts at a mark-up; and Jim Colvin was who I really needed to talk to but he was “sick with that Legionnaires disease.” When I asked who was next in the chain of command or could speak on Colvin’s behalf, he said it had to be Colvin. Several minutes later, though, Heidenreich said I needed to talk with someone at Eldorado Resorts, Mountaineer’s corporate owner. Runaround, defined.
When I mentioned I had yet to receive a response to the two e-mails I sent, Heidenreich scoffed, “WHY did you send e-mails to the stewards?” I responded, “Because on November 11, you left me a VM suggesting I do exactly that and you also provided the address.” Finally, Heidenreich said to call Colvin “tomorrow, after 9 AM”, and although I questioned that (being he was ill), I was assured he was back at work.
On November 19, I called Colvin’s number – no answer. Left a detailed message and asked for a call back. I also called (steward) Andrews, but had to do the same. Neither Colvin nor Andrews called back.
On November 23, I called Colvin again and this time he answered. He had been told about the situation and said, “I heard that all of the horses weren’t even Sipp’s.” I went through the list with him, no detail left out…of the five horses brought to the Lolli auction, Sipp was the last owner/trainer of record of four and identified as the owner of the fifth, the formerly Rice-owned/trained filly, in the auction catalogue. I also informed Colvin that 1), Sipp claims Sue Them All went to Canada as a riding horse; 2), Goodin Puddin and Eye to Thrill were purchased by a kill buyer at Lolli, taken to Texas and re-sold there; and 3), I did not know where the remaining horses were.
When pressed with the fact there was proof Goodin Puddin and Eye to Thrill were purchased by a kill buyer at the Lolli auction, Colvin “reminded” me that their anti-slaughter policy was just that…anti-SLAUGHTER. “Not anti-kill buyer,” Colvin said, “anti-slaughter; there needs to be absolute proof the horse went to slaughter. I know Sipp is no saint but there needs to be absolute proof.” I asked him what would fit the criteria of “absolute proof” a horse has gone to slaughter, BEEN slaughtered. He didn’t have an answer. I suggested different scenarios and again, he just kept repeating the need for absolute proof.
This conversation and every other one I had since my first call to Mountaineer on November 8 were futile, so I ended with this: “There is no point in having your toothless anti-slaughter policy, Jim – you haven’t been able to give me one example of the absolute proof Mountaineer requires. Not one. Aside from flipping the lips of the horses’ severed heads in the slaughterhouse, there is no absolute proof. And you know it. Your industry needs slaughter and you know that, too.” Colvin said he would personally hand my phone number to O’Brien and have O’Brien call me.
Four days later, I had yet to hear from Jim O’Brien, so on November 27 I called Jim Colvin to see if he had given my name and number to O’Brien as he said he would – I had to leave a VM. Then I called Jim O’Brien and finally, HE answered. O’Brien gave the same yarn regarding holding Sipp accountable for selling horses to a kill buyer, but said, “We need concrete proof”…to which I asked, as I had asked of Colvin, “What would that be, Jim? At least two of the horses were purchased at the Lolli auction – brought there by Sipp, with Sipp identified as owner – by a buyer for Stanley, a kill buyer. What more do you need to recognize Sipp violated the anti-slaughter policy?”
O’Brien then felt it necessary to “correct” me…that for the state it is an anti-slaughter RULE and for Mountaineer an anti-slaughter POLICY. I asked O’Brien, “Is a racing owner selling his racehorses to a kill buyer a violation of your anti-slaughter rule?” He would not answer but stuttered, “Let me read it to you.” I told him not to bother as I had read it numerous times, but all of a sudden he was gone…approximately 30 seconds later he was back, reading me the rule/policy. I waited, then asked again, “Is a racing owner selling his racehorses to a kill buyer a violation of your anti-slaughter rule?” Finally, he said, “We would have to investigate and have a hearing.” I reminded him that I had been trying – via numerous calls and emails – for nearly three weeks to provide them with information but no one seemed interested enough to call back OR answer my emails. O’Brien was as inept as Heidenreich and Colvin – so I ended the call after asking for the number of Joe Moore, the WVRC executive director.
On November 27, I called Moore but had to leave a VM. I provided a few details and asked for a call-back at his earliest convenience. I followed that with my third email to the stewards, this time including Joe Moore. As of November 29, I had not received a call back from Moore nor a response to my third email. So I sent a fourth email – to Moore and the stewards – on November 30. No response.
On December 3, I called Joe Moore again. Again, no answer. So, another detailed message. Called Jim O’Brien right after – he was silent when I asked him if they were investigating Sipp and that I had not received responses to voice mails I’ve left with Moore nor to the four emails I was “instructed” (by Heidenreich) to send to the stewards. After a stretch of silence from O’Brien, I asked him again if they were investigating Sipp; he stated: “I’ll have Mike Vapner call you.”
Mike Vapner, the WVRC’s investigator, called me several minutes later. After rehashing the near month’s-worth of phone calls and emails, Vapner provided me with a fax number to the Mountaineer stewards’ office; on December 5, I faxed 24 pages of information, including the proof of Goodin Puddin’s purchase by a kill-buyer at the Lolli auction. Another email was sent to the stewards to alert them of the fax AND I verified with Vapner via text that the 24 pages had been faxed. He acknowledged receipt of my text. Days passed with nothing more. On the 14th, I texted Vapner again, asking him if a decision had been reached. His response:
Vapner: “I work at Mountaineer…and Wheeling Island Racetrack. My last day at Mountaineer was 12/10/18. As of that date none of your documents had been forwarded to me.”
Me: “Mike, they were faxed (to the number you gave me) at 0300 on December 5 – I then sent a fourth email to the stewards to inform I had faxed the 24 pages AND I texted you that morning – you replied with ‘OK, thanks.’ So you didn’t retrieve them?”
Vapner: “No, I didn’t receive them.”
Me: “No…reTRIEVE them. I informed you they were there. So do I need to resend them? This is unbelievable.”
At this point, I called O’Brien’s number to ask him what he/they did with the 24 pages of information I had faxed to the stewards’ office. Maureen Andrews answered and right after I identified myself, the call “dropped.” After several more calls getting “user busy,” I finally got through but only to Jim O’Brien’s VM. I left a message suggesting he locate the information and get it to Vapner. I didn’t receive a call back from O’Brien.
At that point I received another text from Vapner:
Vapner: “Joy I contacted the Stewart’s [sic] office they did not receive any of your faxes I’ll give me [you?] the number for the license clerks fax machine it is 304-387-2226 thank you”
Me: “Yes they did receive them…” – and I texted three photos of the “call report” showing the result of “success.”
Vapner did not respond to the proof that my fax to the stewards’ office had been successfully sent – 24 pages of information sent to a fax machine that HE had chosen – 24 pages of information that HE knew had been successfully sent as evidenced by his acknowledgement of my text stating such. He knew I had faxed them…why wouldn’t Vapner, the investigator, go and retrieve them and if they WEREN’T there, contact me and say so? So I faxed everything a second time – to (AGAIN) the number he gave me. And AGAIN, I texted Vapner after I received confirmation that the fax had gone through. His response:
Vapner: “Joy I will not be at Mountaineer until Sunday evening [December 16]! At that time I will know if fax was completed”
Me: “The fax went through – successful. I don’t know what you meant by ‘completed.’”
Vapner: “Simply that I will check to verify that I got it Sunday” WHAT? …”check to verify that I got it”? And he is an investigator? I closed the loop with, “I’ll check with you Sunday.”
On December 16, I texted Vapner to remind him to get the information I had (successfully) faxed. Mountaineer was racing that evening and Sipp had several horses entered. I received confirmation from Vapner that he did indeed pick up the information. I asked him to keep me informed of his progress and a decision about Sipp. He said he would.
On December 20 at 11:49 am, I texted Vapner to see if a decision had been made. He read my text at 11:51 but did not reply. At 11 pm, I emailed the Mountaineer stewards and Joe Moore with a recap of the situation and the same to the WVRC at 11:30. No response from either the stewards or the WVRC.
On December 24, I texted Vapner again…it had now been eight days since he picked up the SECOND set of information I had faxed to him, and I assumed a decision about Sipp selling at least two horses to a kill buyer would have been reached. He read my text but didn’t respond. Three hours later, I texted Vapner a second time. His response (punctuation added for clarity):
“The last day of racing at Mountaineer was 12-19-18. I did contact Loli [sic] auctions on 12-18-18 and spoke to Anna. She told me it was their policy that she could not supply me with any information on buyers. Mr. Sipp was questioned by the stewards at Mountaineer and he stated that he has been doing business with Loli for years and they are a reputable business. Since the meet at Mountaineer has ended for the year I have been relocated to Wheeling Island Racetrack Casino…as of this date I have not been supplied with internet access or a phone in my office, even though I requested both from management last December. The lack of both greatly hampers my ability to conduct investigations.”
So, it appears, Vapner’s “investigation” (WITH internet access and a phone!) consisted of TWO things: 1), calling Lolli’s on 12-18 and speaking with Anna who informed him she could not divulge WHO purchased Sipp’s horses. But why call Lolli’s? I had provided Vapner with the proof Sipp sold (at least) two horses to a kill buyer! And 2), the stewards’ conversation with Sipp in which he states Lolli’s is reputable, he’s been doing business with them for years, and, as Heidenreich had conveyed to me back on November 9, Sipp SAID he didn’t sell any of his horses to the kill buyer.
So there you have it. Burton Sipp sold Goodin Puddin and Eye to Thrill to a kill buyer at the Lolli Bros. horse auction on November 3. Individuals who were provided proof of such included Mountaineer Director of Racing Jim Colvin, Chief Steward Jim O’Brien, WVRC Executive Director Joe Moore, and WVRC investigator Mike Vapner. Vapner was GIVEN 24 pages of information (twice) – information I had gathered, organized, numbered and cross-referenced, and finally, attached notes for indisputable clarity.
But the WVRC and Mountaineer personnel had no intention of banning Sipp for violation of their anti-slaughter policy. They are a circus show of incompetence and collusion, and their anti-slaughter policy is a farce. One thing, however, that they did do expertly was drag their collective feet…Vapner’s “investigation” concluded just as the Mountaineer meet did – and Sipp had 3 horses entered on the meet’s final night, December 19. How’s that for timing.
Included in the 24 pages I faxed to Vapner and the WVRC (and emailed to the Mountaineer stewards and Joe Moore), the following:
1) photos from the Lolli catalogue naming each horse – with corresponding hip number – brought to the auction and identifying Sipp as the owner.
2) the sale ad from the Stanley Brothers Lone Star Kill Pen for Goodin Puddin, including a description and photos of her.
3) private messages between me and the Lone Star Kill Pen – in them, the kill pen offering other TB’s names that came in from the Lolli auction. Eye to Thrill was one of the several names.
4) photos of a tattooed chestnut TB mare (not identified, “approximate age – 5”) at the Ark-La Ship Pen/Stanley Brothers from November 7 who could possibly be Kentucky Flame, one of the TB’s Sipp sold at Lolli’s.
5) the November 22 ad from Marni Prater who purchased Goodin Puddin from the Lone Star Kill Pen…“We pulled her from a kill pen a few weeks ago…”
6) the fundraiser by Marni Prater for the surgery Goodin Puddin needs for her left knee chip…“Goodin Puddin retired from racing in September. She was sold by her trainer [Rice] to another trainer [Sipp]. The trainer [Sipp] took Puddin and 6  other thoroughbreds to the Lolli brothers’ auction in Missouri. Within days Puddin was at the Lone Star Kill Pen in Texas.”
Marni Prater’s fundraiser has stalled, so she is trying to rehome GP. A second fundraiser by someone who would adopt her has begun – costs include the purchase price, transport from Texas to Oklahoma and the surgery. From the gofundme: “Goodin Puddin is a mare who has been thru a lot these last few months, we have reached out to a few TAA organizations who would like to help her unfortunately due to budgets and end of year expenses the rescues are not able to buy her.”
Once again, the multi-billion dollar racing industry does not take care of its own – and its loudly-touted “aftercare” cannot manage the constant flow of injured and discarded horses. **Let me know if you would like to help Goodin Puddin by way of this fundraiser – I will put you in contact with the individual. TY.**
Finally, I do not know the whereabouts of the other six Sipp horses named in this report.
Goodin Puddin; photo credit: Marni Prater