“The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borrell” judged 2016’s best investigative piece
By: Ryan Dickey
By bringing to light eyewitness accounts, photographs, and videos of alleged neglect of the forty three horses under the care of Maria Borell in Kentucky, Margaret Ransom was named the recipient of the 2016 Stanley Bergstein Writing Award by Team Valor International.
Ransom was presented with the award and a check for $25,000 on November 16 by Team Valor’s CEO Barry Irwin after her article on USRacing.com brought forth damning evidence that prompted 43 counts of second-degree animal cruelty to be charged against Maria and her father, Charles “Chuck” Borell.
The story was one of nine articles nominated to be judged by a panel consisting of long-time turf writers Neil Milbert, Michael Veitch, and Maryjane Wall, as well as track announcer Trevor Denman and Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron.
Natalie Voss had four articles nominated. Frank Angst, Bob Ehalt, and Gordon Waterstone each had one piece nominated while 2013 Stanley Bergstein Writing Award-winner Ray Paulick was also nominated for another piece this year.
Past winners of the award include the New York Times’ Walt Bogdanich, Joe Drape, and Rebecca Ruiz (2012); Paulick (2013); Lucas Marquardt (2014); and Chris Wittstruck (2015).
Named after the legendary harness racing executive and former announcer, Stan Bergstein would later write for the Daily Racing Form as a columnist. He had a penchant for writing investigative stories that would “ruffle some feathers” per the Team Valor description of the award.
Ransom, who has an extensive resume in many aspects of horse racing, actually interacted regularly with Bergstein prior to his death in November of 2011.
“To win an award dedicated to the memory of Stan is quite an honor,” said Ransom. “He was instrumental in my becoming a writer”.
A graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program, Ransom began her career in Southern Florida tracks such as Calder, Hialeah, and Gulfstream Park, before moving to Lexington, Kentucky to work for BRISnet.com for six years–developing the newsletters “Bloodstock Journal” and “Handicapper’s Edge”.
She returned to her native California, covering the Southern California circuit for BloodHorse, as well as contributing to a myriad of industry publications.
Ransom worked in various capacities at Santa Anita Park, both in the publicity department and on the backside–as a groom and hotwalker in the latter. She also wore many hats at HRTV, as researcher, producer, and marketing manager.
Still a mainstay at Santa Anita, Margaret can be seen regularly at “Clocker’s Corner”, and is quite a fan of 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Champion Arrogate. She also is a freelance writer for US Racing and Lady and the Track and is currently writing a book.
Her winning article about the saga of Borell, published on USRacing.com and edited by Derek Simon took social media by storm after it was first published in late May. Ransom has written follow-up articles about the neglected horses, and it was her compassionate plea for help that seemed to spurn Kentucky officials to hasten their investigation of the alleged abuse and neglect.
Although Chuck Borell would submit an Alford guilty plea to nine of the 43 charges (where he did not admit to any wrongdoing, but accepted that there was enough evidence against him for a conviction) the horses have since been seized and brought back to health, Maria fled Kentucky, and is allegedly in upstate New York, living under varying aliases.
Her pending charges are for 43 misdemeanor, so she cannot be extradited to Kentucky.
Maria Borell was mostly known as the “rags-to-riches” trainer of 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Runhappy, who Borell conditioned for Gallery Racing, but was fired the day after that race at Keeneland.
Public sympathy to her plight by those that didn’t know the whole story was quick and the rhetoric vicious. Runhappy was then relegated to training under the auspices of Laura Wohlers, who had trained the colt for his first two races.
A war of public words was quickly quelled when both sides were advised by their respective attorneys to refrain from speaking publicly about the incident.
But it was Ransom who dug deep to get to the root of the problem–Maria was not caring for the horses she was being paid to look after. She was neglecting the animals, while living in squalor, and displaying erratic behavior.
Ransom interviewed many witnesses, and obtained photographs as well as videos as part of “evidence” of alleged wrongdoing, which was integral to her winning article.
Although Borell has yet to be tried for her animal cruelty charges, she has reportedly been seen in upstate New York, near Syracuse, and has recently been identified as a person riding a horse in a recent photograph, suggesting she has at least one horse currently in her care.
Even though Ransom has made no attempts to hide her contempt for Borell, her piece was not only award-winning, but eye-opening for the author.
“I realized that you can either let something go, or you can buckle down and do the hard work to bring something to light. I felt like this needed to be done–for the horses,” said Ransom.
And that is exactly what the Stan Bergstein Writing Award represents–critical writing even where some feathers may be ruffled.