Michele Rodriguez: Raising, Racing, and Rescuing

camp2009-session5-2Michele Rodriguez, owner (with her husband, Lee Daniel Thomas) of Elite Thoroughbreds and a member of the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association Board of Directors, gives avid support to the Louisiana-bred incentive program. (Go to the LTBA website www.louisianabred.com to download the By-Laws.) Michele contends that the Louisiana breeders’ awards program is among the most lucrative in the country. For instance, each of the four racetracks in the state offers a day of stakes races exclusively showcasing Louisiana bred horses; no other state offers more than one for the whole state. The LTBA also requires each track in the state to offer three LA-bred races for every day of a live meet. And the LTBA will pay breeders’ awards for a first, second, or third place finish…anywhere in the world. In other words, if the track-bound foal you own drops in Louisiana, you may be getting significant mailbox money.

MicheleElite Thoroughbreds comprises two farms in Folsom, Louisiana: the 97-acre training facility and stallion station on Chenel Road and the 600 rolling acres of the broodmare farm on Highway 450. The Chenel Road farm has a ½-mile track with a 4-stall starting gate, a 60-foot round pen, a 60-foot covered EuroXciser (a circular track with moving panels to urge the horses along), and an equine swimming pond. Michele’s son Lee is the head trainer and her younger son Reece, who also has a trainer’s license, assists Lee at the farm and at Fair Grounds Race Track in New Orleans.

Elite Thoroughbreds’ busiest stallion this season is E Dubai, by Mr. Prospector, out of Words of War by Lord at War, a good broodmare producer. E Dubai’s son Fort Larned won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic. “E Dubai is one of the nicest stallions in the state,” says Michele.

The stallion My Pal Charlie, says Michele, is a solid horse for producing runners every year. “His get are always hitting the boards!” My Pal Charlie is by Indian Charlie and out of Shahalo, a Halo mare. “We love his babies, and trainers like them, too,” she says.

gateMichele’s son Lee is a fan of their stallion Tenpins. He is by Smart Strike, who just died in April. “Sad…We had a mare booked to him,” says Michele. Smart Strike is the sire of Curlin, who won over ten million dollars. Smart Strike is by Mr. Prospector. Tenpins’ dam is Maids Broom, by Deputy Minister. In his running career, Tenpins won over a million dollars.

Neko Bay is a son of Giants Causeway, by Storm Cat. His dam Brulay is by Rubiano, who carries Mr. Prospector and Nijinsky blood. Brulay is a granddaughter of Seattle Slew on the dam side and is a ¾ sister to Lemon Drop Kid, sire of 83 stakes winners and 37 graded stakes winners.

farm2The breeding season is usually finished by early June. Most people don’t want babies born later than May. Ideally, a Thoroughbred breeder wants the foals on the ground closer to January, the official birthdate of all foals. However, says Michele, a lot of February breedings don’t catch, because the mare’s reproductive organs haven’t started kicking into gear. And some mares may not catch the first or second time. Depending on a young horse’s rate of development, a late birthday may not prevent a 2-year-old from doing well at the track. One of Michele’s late babies ran as a two-year-old and came in second in a stakes race that same year.

“Under our training schedule,” says Michele, “we start breaking in February of a horse’s second year. I would like to race two-year-olds, for economic reasons, but we don’t push our horses. So many things can happen to two-year-olds! They get runny noses, they get shin bucked…after we break them we just put them back on the shelf for a few months and let them grow up.”

Elite Thoroughbreds lets their broodmares and babies enjoy the 250 acres of pasture at “the farm on Highway 450,” otherwise known as Elite Thoroughbreds Broodmare Division. About 50 broodmares live there; some belong to clients who want those valuable “Louisiana-bred” foals.

Michele worries about the future of racing. The main problem facing the industry, says Michele, “is that we need to make a concerted effort to bring more youth into racing. Even just to come and watch. That’s why I’m so glad my two boys are involved in racing.” At the Fairgrounds, Starlight Racing on Friday nights was a well-attended promotion, aimed at a younger crowd. Now Starlight Racing only happens once a month. “Every time they did it,” says Michele, “a ton of people would come out, listen to the bands, watch the races. You never know—someone might fall in love with a horse, and want to invest.”

Michele realizes that investing in a racehorse seems risky to newcomers. She has devised a way to spread the risk and get younger people and non-horse people involved: “We’ve put together several racing partnerships, three horses in each group. At least one horse might do well. So far, the partnerships are doing OK. The horses are supporting themselves. Eventually we’ll do a disbursement.” Michele points out the tax advantages: on the Federal form you can apply accelerated depreciation and write off 50% of your investment in the first year. Depending on your tax situation, a racing partnership is a wise investment. Plus, watching your horses run is a lot more entertainment than watching stock prices. Interested in investing? Check with your CPA and, if the tea leaves are auspicious, send Michele an email: elite@elitethoroughbreds.com

The Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association oversees the disbursement of the breeders’ awards. (Besides awards for performance of Louisiana-bred offspring, there are also stallion awards. Check the LTBA By-Laws.) The awards program is essential to the success of Thoroughbred breeding operations. The benefits enrich horse breeders, but the benefits also enrich all the people of Louisiana: the horse industry in this state is huge. Feed stores, equipment dealers, and tack shops that flourish because of racing dollars also make life convenient for rodeo athletes, trail riders, hunter-jumpers, etc. Horse farms add to the beauty of the state. And horses provide not only entertainment and exercise but also therapy for the mentally and physically challenged.

Incentives have a dark side, unfortunately. Sometimes ignorant entrepreneurs think they’ll make a killing in breeders’ awards by flooding the tracks with Louisiana-breds…and then they discover that the feed bills and mortgages and vet bills are bleeding their pocketbooks dry. Since they got into the business for financial reasons, not because they love the horses, the horses are the ones that suffer.

“Several years ago I was talking with Judy Agular and we decided that it was ridiculous that Louisiana didn’t have a horse rescue organization. So we started the Louisiana Horse Rescue Association (LHRA). We got the LTBA to agree to donate the proceeds from that year’s Champions Day silent auction to our new cause.” Michele is the past president, Pat Richmond is the current president, and Therese Arroyo, the treasurer, obtained the non-profit 501c3 designation for the group. Go to www.louisianahorserescue.com to learn more, to adopt, to become outraged at human cruelty, and to become uplifted by human caring.

The most heartbreaking and dramatic rescue took place in January, 2012. Charles Ford, a Thoroughbred owner and breeder with a farm in Many, Louisiana, was a hoarder of animals–not a caregiver. The Sabine Parish Animal shelter had been called out to his property several times due to his severe neglect of his animals. His lack of cooperation prompted them to file a criminal complaint and the Judge in Sabine Parish issued a writ of seizure to seize all of his animals. The Sabine Parish Animal Shelter asked LHRA to help with the horses. LHRA called in the LSU vet school and other concerned groups, and they all converged on Ford’s property and discovered the extent of the man’s cruelty. To their horror, the volunteers found 45 starving horses and many starving dogs and pigs. At one time Ford had owned over 90 horses. The rescuers found horse carcasses and skeletons, shallow graves, and decayed fetuses. The heroes of the day were the LSU vet and the students. They were able to round up all of the horses and do quick health assessments, pull Coggins tests, and microchip each horse. LHRA arranged
transportation and moved all 45 horses off the premises. It was a monumental task, and despite everyone’s dedication some of the younger horses subsequently died. The LHRA was able to place about 35 of the remaining horses; about five still remain in the program. Charles Ford was subsequently convicted and sentenced to jail.

Because of depleted resources from big rescues in recent years, the LHRA only takes on horses now if they are in dire need… “or if the owner wants to make a generous donation. This would not be a starvation situation,” says Michele. “Suppose a trainer calls us and says that his horse is injured and can’t run and wants us to take the horse off his hands. We want to give the horse an afterlife. In these situations the horses have been at the track, they’re beautiful and well fed, and are not hard to place, if they aren’t injured too badly.” Michele tells of one horse off the track that had shattered some bones in his ankle. He spent a year in the pasture, and now he runs around, enjoying being a horse. “He’s never going to be totally sound, but the woman who adopted him just thinks he’s beautiful and only wants to hop on and ride him around the pasture. And this same woman came back and adopted another horse who had an ugly growth right under his stomach. LSU removed it, and now her son and daughter are going to ride him. The growth isn’t cancer, but it might come back. You can’t sell him. And we had an ugly swaybacked mare, and a lady adopted her to be a babysitter for her other horse. There’s somebody out there who is going to find a place in his or her heart for one of these rescues. I never thought we’d get rid of the swayback! But the lady’s thrilled with the mare.”

Michele wants to spread the word about Equine Sales of Louisiana, which recently created a $4.5 million facility in Opelousas, Louisiana, for Thoroughbred auctions. “We have a two-year-olds in training sale, starting April 26th; a yearling sale in September; and a mixed sale in October. We’re bringing in more and more buyers from out of state and we’re hoping to push up the prices of Louisiana-breds.” For more information, go to www.equinesalesofla.com The facility is located at:

372 Harry Guilbeau Road

Opelousas, LA 70570

(337) 678-3024

And for more information about Elite Thoroughbreds, go to www.elitethoroughbreds.com

Elite Thoroughbreds

80535 Chenel Road

Folsom, LA 70437

Office: (985) 796-9955

Fax: (985) 796-9959

Email: Office@elitethoroughbreds.com