A racehorse once belonging to a California family who was massacred in 2008, was plucked this month from a California auction house, his life saved through the glorious teamwork of a rescue organization, social media and his original breeder.
Return of the King, a 2002 Kentucky bred gelding who earned $175,000 in 33 starts, stood gingerly on a badly swollen hind leg at Mike’s Auction House June 14 when he was spotted by Megan Gaynes, a three-year veteran of Auction Horses Rescue.
“He was in significant pain, standing on a hugely swollen leg,” Gaynes says. “My friend who accompanied me grabbed his halter to lead him, and it was clear he was really lame on his front feet as well. So I turned to the auction staff and I asked if I could please buy him right there, rather than make him run through the auction.”
The auction workers agreed.
She paid $300 for him on the spot, and transported the injured animal to the West Coast Equine Hospital in Somis, Calif.
That’s when word started to get out that King had once been owned and loved by James Ortega of Covina, Calif., a man well known at Santa Anita, and where they each had stood together, victorious in the winner’s circle.
Return of the King
Sire: Wolf Power
Dam: Family Felon
Foal date: May 3, 2002
Earnings: $175,000Tragically however, on Christmas Eve 2008, Ortega and nine members of his extended family was massacred by his sister’s ex-husband, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo. According to many published news accounts, Pardo arrived at a family Christmas party dressed as Santa Claus and opened fire, later taking his own life.
The story of the crime, which made national news at the time, went national once again this month as social media channels urgently shared King’s story, and that of the family so shockingly cut down. Horsemen and advocates alike now pulled together to ensure that the horse, at least, would live through his own ordeal.
“It was such a tragedy. A month before the family died, they all came together for a race that King won at Santa Anita. And somewhere there’s a picture of them all standing together with King in the winner’s circle,” Gaynes says. “Friends and family of the Ortega family have since come onto our Facebook page and told us how grateful they are that we saved King. And I have no doubt that if the family hadn’t been murdered, they would have kept King, and given him a good retirement.”
And now King will get that retirement in Kentucky where he was born.
James Keogh of Grovendale Sales, who is King’s breeder, readily agreed to take back the horse and provide him with a lifetime retirement. “I’m just doing what’s right,” Keogh says, adding that he is optimistic that King’s lameness can be helped, if not corrected, with good farrier care.
King suffers from significant arthritis in his front, right ankle and moderate-to-severe pedal osteitis in his left, front coffin bone, according to veterinary findings. His hind leg, which gave him so much trouble, fortunately had only a superficial wound.
Keogh plans to medically treat those conditions as soon as the horse makes the trip from California to his Kentucky farm. He anticipates using a rubber compression mold to take the compaction away, and utilizing physical therapy tools, such as vibrating plates, to increase blood flow and promote healing to the foot.
As he awaits the horse’s arrival, Keogh notes that well-known advocate Jen Roytz, the former head of marketing for Three Chimneys Farm, was integral in efforts to help King. “She recognized me as the breeder and called me to ask if I could help,” he says. “I was happy to.”
Keogh expects King will make a fine pasture ornament, or possibly a babysitter for yearlings.
Regardless of what he does, he will come home to Kentucky where good care, and a safe stall await.♦