The New Year was coming fast as Indian Chant barreled across the Santa Anita finish line on Dec. 31, 2006.
His powerful victory brought his owner, Maggi Moss, unparalleled success. In a flash, she became the most winning racehorse owner in the United States that year, cinching a coveted spot no woman had ever held before.
Not known to be faint of heart, Moss started to cry.
“I was just so tired,” she recalls in a phone interview with OffTrackThoroughbreds.com.
“In 2006, I worked a ton of hours, and when it was finally over, the biggest revelation I had was that I felt I was using horses to a achieve a goal.”
As she wept, she began to formulate a new goal for her high-powered life that had, so far, seen few losses. The determined woman, who figured she could “out work anyone,” had long ago proven herself as a three-time champion hunter/jumper, and later, as a high-powered attorney and eventual law partner.
After her astounding victory in racing, as young and old, rich and poor, successes and failures around the world made their New Year’s resolutions, Moss did the same.
“I was leading the nation in wins, and that’s when I said, ‘No more national championships,’ ” she says. “And, I decided it was time to give back. Winning at that level was no longer enjoyable; it was like working on a four-month homicide (court) case.”
After 131 wins in a single year, life in the hard-knocking world of Thoroughbred racing started to feel as strenuous as her former career in a vigorous law practice, working high-profile criminal defense cases, and later, on victim-advocacy.
“Quite frankly, when I was a young-gun defense lawyer representing gangs, and later, when I switched to female victim advocacy, there wasn’t a day that I didn’t deal with brutal tragedy,” Moss says.
Horse racing, by contrast, was a beautiful sport; in fact, for many years it was a psychological balm to her stressful legal work. From her first moments watching horses at the Prairie Meadows Race Track in the late 90s, and subsequent decision to buy her first racehorse, Apax, in 1997, racing was the glorious opposite to the grind of the courtroom and crime scenes.
But, one day, Moss was brought up short by the “brutal” side of the horse industry.
“I got a phone call in my law office. It was 2002 or 2003, and a horse-rescue group was calling to tell me they had my horse, US Gold, and that they’d just purchased him for $250 from a (feedlot),” Moss says. “That was my first indoctrination into slaughter; I went crazy.”
US Gold was racing at a track in the east when, Moss says, one of her friends reported meeting what seemed to be a legitimate representative of a riding school.
The representative offered to take the horse and provide him a good life. Instead, says Moss, the horse was sold into the slaughter pipeline, but eventually saved by a horse-rescue group.
Although she was able to place her horse in a retirement home, the exposure to slaughter drew Moss into the world of disposable Thoroughbreds, with a vengeance.
And rather than turn her back, she got involved.
“I decided that as fortunate and lucky as I’ve been in this business, that I would try to rescue and save as many horses as I could afford,” Moss says. By claiming them at tracks, and simply taking in others, Moss estimates she has successfully re-homed about 100 ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.
She also served on the board of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation from 2007 to 2009, and, when she saw a need closer to her Iowa home, at Prairie Meadows Race Track, she founded a retirement program for horses running only at that track.
Hope After Racing Thoroughbreds, (HART), which was begun two years ago, offers a place for racehorses injured at Prairie Meadows to go and recuperate, and retrain for second careers.
“I wish I had millions of dollars so I could rescue every animal. But, I have the limitations of my business, so I do what I can,” she says. HART was born of her desire to “do good for the racehorses,” she explains, noting, “I try and take care of my horses, and I try to take care of peoples’ requests for help.”
There have been so many, in her barns alone, who she has loved, sometimes more than the people in her life. “I’m a funny person. I can go to a party, and I can manage. But, I get along better with animals than I do people.”
Considering the racing industry today, with the news reports highlighting issues with race-day medications, and the frequency of horse deaths at racetracks, Moss sees the real problem as going much deeper than that. For her, it is the slaughter issue that is the number one blight on the horse industry.
“People are talking about Lasix and yet, 1,000 horses this week are going to have their heads cut off in a slaughterhouse,” Moss says. “I was trying to tell someone about the slaughter issue the other day; people don’t want to hear it.
“My question is, why do people turn their heads when the issue of slaughter comes up? I’m not sure I have an answer for that.”
So, Moss has vowed to go on taking special care of the horses she owns. And, through the HART program at Prairie Meadows, offer a safety net for those racing in her hometown track.
It is her vow. It is her mission, as a Thoroughbred racehorse owner who has the heart to do the right thing.