Day At The Track

Barbara Galbraith & Rodney Farms struggle!

11:14 PM 10 Feb 2013 NZDT
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Barbara Galbraith, owner of Rodney Farms Niatross induction Niatross
Barbara Galbraith, owner of Rodney Farms - Feeds one of the horses in their large horse barn
Courtesy of ANNETTE LEIN/staff photographer
Niatross induction - Received his honor in 1997
Left to Right, David Meirs of Walnridge farm, the late Norman Woolworth, trainer/driver Clint Galbraith, Niatross and caretaker Chris Coyle.

Barbara Galbraith thought she had a guardian angel when she opened a mysterious FedEx envelope left on the front porch of her small Scottsville farmhouse last month and found a check for $2,431. Perhaps, she thought, someone learned of how badly she and her once world-class harness racing breeding operation were struggling.

That she, at 64, and her husband, harness racing Hall of Fame reinsman and trainer Clint Galbraith, at 75 and recuperating from a serious head injury suffered two years ago, were in debt and trying to care for 83 horses with no income other than their Social Security checks and one from Barbara's 101-year-old mother, Bette.

Or that a few thousand dollars might get them through the expensive feed costs of winter, and begin a rejuvenation of her breeding and his million-dollar racing operations that have faltered under the weight of bad luck and bad decisions.

There was Clint's injury; a failed and now acrimonious business partnership with advertising executive Arnold Rothschild; a suffering economy and poor financial decisions; and changes in the horse-racing and -rearing worlds that have all but crippled their lifelong endeavors.

But there was no guardian angel. The check was a scam.

And so, as the day-to-day living goes on and the struggles continue, hard choices loom as the once grand horse operation deteriorates around them.

They are choices the Galbraiths must now make under the oversight of Humane Society investigators who visited the animals this week and will now insist on significant improvements and the surrender of at least some of the animals.

As a misty and cold rain fell recently, Barbara Galbraith gazed out onto the farm her father started 50 years ago. "Quite often I look around and I say to myself: ‘My life was wasted,'" she said. "I spent all this time trying to keep something going and now it's gone."

The Home of Duke Rodney

The horse barn at Rodney Farms on Scottsville-West Henrietta Road opens onto a multicolored floor mat embedded with a proud declaration: The Home of Duke Rodney.

Most harness racing people would understand. The farm is named after Duke, a smallish brown colt who was a world champion trotter in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Duke was owned by Barbara's father, Patrick DiGennaro.

Duke would be the greatest money-winning trotting stallion of his time, with earnings of about $625,000.

Duke's success helped build Rodney Farms in 1963, Barbara said, and instill in her the love of a business that is the only life she's ever wanted.

Built on more than 250 acres just southwest of a hard curve in the Genesee River, Rodney Farms was a local showpiece for decades.

Politicians and hundreds of others turned out for its dedication and to see its steed barn consisting of four large stalls and individual paddocks located south of the main barn. There were 12 pole barns in the various paddocks and pastures to shelter the horses. There was a large pole barn for the storage of hay and equipment.

The farm would become prolific and profitable, made so in large part by Barbara, who, at 22, took over control of the farm with her mother in 1972 following her father's sudden death in Detroit that year.

Four years later Barbara met Clint in Monticello, Sullivan County, "over a horse." The two later married and Clint moved to Scottsville, where he would run his standardbred (the breed used in harness racing) operation for the next four decades.

If Duke helped build Rodney Farms, another horse would make Clint and Barbara Galbraith legends.

Niatross, a half-ton standardbred "with a broad chest and chiseled muscles that ripple under a rich, bronze coat," according to an article in Hoof Beats magazine. Niatross twice won Horse of the Year, was named the New York Post Athlete of the Year, and in 1980 won the Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Pacers and the first million-dollar race in either standardbred or thoroughbred racing history.

Niatross winning The 1980 Little Brown Jug

Before he retired, Niatross won 37 of 39 races and more than $2 million in prize money. He was once valued at $20 million before he was sold to stud at a farm in New Jersey.

Niatross' success elevated Clint and the farm to the top of the racing game, and helped the farm expand to more than 120 racing horses, Barbara said. The racing horses and brood mares nearly filled the 208-stall main barn and 20-stall receiving barn. Each 12-by-12 stall was equipped with automatic waterers and individual infrared heaters.

With its success came change: A dormitory was built across the street to house the 35 workers needed to run the farm in the summer. In the winter, when Clint and those workers went to Florida to train, at least a half-dozen others were needed to support Barbara's breeding operation.

In his career, Clint had more than 3,000 driving wins and nearly $20 million in purses as a driver, according to his Hall of Fame description by Batavia Downs Racing.

"We got to do things because Clint was very famous," Barbara said. "We went to Australia, and we went to Germany and we went to France. I was a leading amateur (driver) in the United States, too ... I've done everything you can do in the horse business."

The success - and the big profits - would carry on for years as horses and business partners came and went.

But attendance at harness racing tracks like Batavia Downs waned, and while the sport continues to be a robust industry for many here and in other parts of the U.S., Rodney Farms and Galbraith Stables are not enjoying the success.

There are many reasons why.

"Little bit of this ... little bit of that"

Now a two-person operation with the occasional help of a few others, Clint still carries 5-gallon buckets of water to the horses every day, still mucks the stalls and fills them with hay. Clint and Barbara still screen the track to train some of the standardbreds. They still wake up early and work 14-plus hour days as they have for decades.

But the cost and workload of running a working horse farm and breeding operation has been overwhelming, and the signs of that are everywhere.

Massive holes in the roof of the once beautiful main barn let in the snow and wind. Most of the 200 stalls have broken doors and bent bars; only about 30 are usable.

An overhead door doesn't work: "It's like a wind tunnel in here when the wind blows," Barbara said.

Barbara tries keep up by tapping over the holes, fixing the doors, and carrying pails of hot water to thaw those frozen pipes because "everything is frozen."

But real repairs won't come.

They would cost too much - she estimates at more than $100,000 but it's likely more - and she needs all the money she scrapes together to buy food and equipment for the horses.

Posts on Craigslist ask people to buy their used farm equipment and to adopt or provide foster care for the animals; others solicit donations to pay for their food for the animals: "Many standardbred mares need homes or help paying feed bills," one reads.

The Galbraiths still live with Bette in the small farmhouse at the south end of the farm near the road, but that house will be owned by a bank when Bette passes away, Barbara said. Aside from the horses and another piece of property on Scottsville Road, the house is all they own.

The farm was foreclosed on in 2011. It was later bought by a local farmer with adjoining property, from whom the Galbraiths now rent the barn and about a third of the acres on a month-to-month basis.

They are in debt, Barbara said, but declined to elaborate. A list of tax warrants, liens and judgments filed against them in the Monroe County Clerk's office over the past 20 years provides a glimpse into a rocky financial situation

"The only reason the electricity stays on is because three senior citizens live here," she said, sitting at her kitchen table, looking out the back window toward the barn.

How did this happen?

Barbara, who said she bred more than 3,000 horses in her career and was the biggest breeder in western New York, acknowledged there have been some bad decisions, but maintains that much was beyond their control.

"It was just one of those things. It was a little bit of this and a little bit of that," she said.

They have no income from the breeding operation, which dried up three years ago when the economy slowed and she couldn't afford the breeding fees, she said. Last summer's drought and an infestation of army worms has driven the cost of hay to about $7 a bale this year compared with about $3 most winters.

Clint's racing business has stalled, in large part because of a once promising and profitable partnership forged in 2005 with Rothschild, which has since become bitter and likely soon litigious.

Rothschild, a lover of harness racing who dabbled in driving and training standardbreds in the 1970s, was a longtime admirer of Clint, he said, and when the opportunity to partner came, he jumped at it.

"Back in the '70s, when I watched him, and later with Niatross, I thought he was the greatest horseman I ever saw," Rothschild said.

Ugly, and growing uglier

On the details of the relationship's collapse, the two sides largely agree.

In 2005, Rochester Harness Racing LLC, owned by Rothschild, initially bought a 50 percent interest in nine of the Galbraiths' horses that would race in the New York Sire Stakes.

Rothschild said Clint's 50 percent interest in the horses would "cut the training costs in half."

For several years the team of Rothschild and Galbraith raced and won, and both groups agree that the Galbraiths kept the lion's share of the winnings, as a way to care for and train the horses.

As time went on, however, Rothschild said he grew concerned about the finances.

"Clint Galbraith stables was separate (from Rodney Farms), but over time it became apparent to me that it wasn't and I got a little uncomfortable with that, and I was trying to distance myself," he said. "I insisted that no horses be raced with Barbara Galbraith listed as the trainer. I had a lot of concerns about what they were doing with money and I stopped loaning them any money at the time.

"They were keeping the purse money and I had lent them a truck. There were always tax problems and always calls because they didn't have any money," he said.

"I felt like I had to get away from what was a pretty ugly, and growing uglier, situation out there."

Three years ago, Clint initiated a Chapter 11 "reorganization" petition, Barbara said, estimating the process cost them about $50,000 to $60,000. They'd hoped that the reorganization would stop foreclosure on the farm and allow them to pay back creditors on a payment plan.

In it, Rothschild was listed as a creditor who was owed about $100,000, Rothschild said.

But the attempt at reorganization failed, and in May 2010 Clint was bumped by a horse while he was trying to lead it off a trailer. He fell, smashed his head on cement and slipped into a coma, Barbara said.

The business partnership crumbled completely.

"I asked for a dispersal sale to try to get rid of the horses, and they refused," said Rothschild, who would eventually surrender his racing license in an attempt to force the sale. In order for a horse to race, all the owners must have a current racing license.

At one point in 2012, the Galbraiths took one of the horses they shared with Rothschild to Tioga Downs, only to be told when they got there they couldn't race the horse because Rothschild no longer had a license. So since last summer, they have been unable to race any horses the team owns.

Rothschild said he has since sent them certified letters demanding they sell the horses.

He said a lawsuit is inevitable. He hasn't been to the farm in two years.

"This was a grand barn that has gone into disrepair," Rothschild said. "There are horses out there that should have been sold years ago. No matter what you do to try to encourage them to do that, they won't do it."

Poor decisions

Ellen Harvey, director of harness racing communications for the United States Trotting Association, said harness racing in upstate New York is "thriving" and other breeders and racing people are doing "quite well" in the business, buoyed in large part by a share of revenue from video lottery terminals at racetracks.

When told about how the Galbraith's were running the farm, she called it "not sustainable," because of the immense costs associated with caring for horses - especially when there are not profits from breeding or racing.

"I think in their case, it's probably less the horses than a lot of other factors at work, not the least of which is the dynamics of the age of the people involved," Harvey said.

Adrienne McHargue, director of communications and outreach at Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester, said investigators have visited the farm on multiple occasions over the years, most recently this week after being contacted by the Democrat and Chronicle regarding the farm's prior history.

The other visits by law enforcement investigators were in response to complaints of animal neglect and cruelty, but Barbara had not been cooperative and had refused to allow them access to the animals, McHargue said.

This time, investigators met with Clint, who let them onto the property.

"Our investigator said that it had definitely gone downhill as far as the condition of the barn and the fences and things like that," McHargue said. "The horses themselves are kind of in rough shape, but there ... wasn't anything that they could make an arrest for."

Changes will be made, McHargue said, and estimated Lollypop could take - with Barbara's consent - about 30 of the horses, though she stressed that discussions are ongoing. Lollypop also would be willing to help with the horses that remain at Rodney Farms and help with some of the repairs to the farm.

"We don't want to go in there and storm-trooper the place, we want to help, but our main concern is the condition of some of these horses," she said. "It's really touch-and-go, and if it goes further downhill, there is going to be actionable stuff. They obviously want to keep some of the horses, but we'd like to take some of the burden and help them get back on their feet a little bit."

"They are definitely struggling to keep up," she said.

Several years ago, Barbara surrendered other horses that were in poor condition, McHargue said. And in November 2011, Barbara called them to ask Lollypop Farm for help selling the horses.

Earlier this month, Barbara defended her treatment of the horses and cats and other animals on the farm.

"People have actually come and told me I should dig a big hole and get a shotgun. But I can't do that," she said. "These horses that are here are all healthy, they are all fat. Their quality of life is very good."

But she knows she is in a difficult position.

"I admit to making a few mistakes along the line, but the majority of the reason we are where we are is because of things we couldn't handle. I mean we can't control the world."

Dream came true ... crushed

Still looking out over the land that her father first worked in the early 1960s, Barbara said she clings to the hope of getting through the winter, getting the operations running again, but on a smaller scale.

Perhaps a new partner, with a fresh investment, might get them out from under the ruined relationship with Rothschild.

"Part of me says you can't do this forever. My kids tell me that. But I really don't want to do anything else. Like the cowboy, I want to die with my boots on."

She envisions a smaller operation, perhaps 20 horses on the land on Scottsville Road. But that would take money: The property is not set up for it, yet, and she estimated it would cost $100,000 to fix the existing racetrack there, install fencing and build another 12 or 15 stalls.

But something has to change.

"A long time ago I picked out the paddock that I wanted my ashes spread in. I thought this was a forever thing," said Barbara, who at 5-years-old slowly pecked out a child's contract on a manual typewriter, binding her father to buying her a horse and a farm: a life.

"My dad brought me this dream and I've been very fortunate to have this dream," Barbara said.

"My dream came true, and then my dream got crushed."

By John Hand

Courtesy of Democrat and

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