The Killing of Alydar

Once upon a time he was one of the fastest thoroughbreds in the world. In 1990 he was put down after breaking his leg—an accident, it was assumed, until last year.

He was a beautiful, proud thoroughbred, headstrong and demanding, the kind of horse who would snort impatiently if he decided the grooms were not paying him enough attention. Each day, his oak- paneled stall was swept, mopped, and replenished with fresh straw. His richly colored chestnut coat was constantly brushed. For his daily exercise sessions, he was taken to his own three-acre paddock, where he could frolic alone in perfectly tended bluegrass.His name was Alydar. To sports fans, he was known for the thrilling duels he staged with his rival, Affirmed, for the 1978 Triple Crown. But to the world’s wealthiest horse breeders, he was revered for a different reason altogether. Alydar was one of the greatest sires in Thoroughbred history—a 1,200-pound genetic wonder whose offspring often became champion racehorses themselves. Each spring, the breeders would come with their convoys of horse trailers to Kentucky’s Calumet Farm, one of the country’s premier horse-racing operations, willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to have Alydar mount their finest mares. Day after day, more than two hundred times a year, he would strut into the breeding shed, eye his latest prize, rise up on his hind legs, and begin to dance forward. Within seconds, his tail would swoosh up, signaling the end of his encounter, and he would be washed and then led away, back to the stall with his name emblazoned on the brass doorplate.

But on a chilly November night in 1990, the great stallion was found in shock in his stall, his coat glistening with sweat, his right hind leg hanging by tendons, a shaft of white bone jutting through his skin. J. T. Lundy, the rotund, blustery head of the farm, told veterinarians that Alydar had shattered his leg by kicking his own stall door. He had kicked it so hard, Lundy said, that he had knocked loose a heavy metal roller that had been bolted into the floor just outside Alydar’s sliding door.

In emergency surgery, veterinarians were able to set the bone and put a cast on his leg. But within 24 hours, Alydar, hearing the whinnying of some mares in a nearby pasture, turned to look out a window in the Calumet clinic, put too much weight on the leg, and this time broke his femur. The sound of the break was like a gunshot. As he lay on the floor, an uncomprehending look in his eyes, Alydar was put down, and his body was taken to the Calumet cemetery, where he was buried with the farm’s other racing champions. Eight months later, Calumet itself unraveled, forced to declare bankruptcy with more than $127 million in debts. According to the stories splashed on the sports pages of almost every newspaper in the country, the farm could not begin to pay its immense bills and bank loans without the millions of dollars it had been deriving from Alydar’s stud fees. Calumet was so broke that its horses and equipment were going to be sold at public auction.

It was difficult for Kentucky horse people to believe that such a calamity could have happened. A few of them quietly said they were haunted by the strange circumstances of Alydar’s death. A foreman from the stallion barn, for instance, couldn’t remember Alydar having ever kicked anything hard enough to do any damage to his leg. And it was difficult to understand how even a powerful horse could have kicked that solid oak door with enough force to knock it off its hinges. Yet there was never an official investigation into the events of that night. No public accusations were made. As everyone in the horse business knew, horses could be unpredictable, and they could also be fragile. Alydar’s death, no doubt, was one of those accidental, heartbreaking tragedies that no one could have done anything about.

And that, by all accounts, was the end of the story—until one afternoon in 1996, when a young assistant U.S. attorney in Houston was sitting in her downtown office, flipping through some bank records. The attorney’s name was Julia Hyman (she now goes by her married name, Julia Tomala), and she knew nothing about horse racing. She spent her days investigating one of the worst financial scandals in American history: the widespread failure of hundreds of Texas financial institutions. Her job was to unearth the most complicated of white-collar crimes, such as money-laundering schemes and check-kiting operations.

On that particular afternoon, Tomala was studying the documents of the defunct First City National Bank of Houston, looking for evidence of fraud. She paused when she came to a document that mentioned Calumet Farm. She paused again when she came to a document that mentioned Alydar.

At the time, Tomala, an elegant woman with thick dark hair and a fondness for stylish black pantsuits, had no idea who or what Alydar was. She had never even been to a horse race. But by the summer of 1997, she was on her way to Kentucky to ask questions about how that horse had lived and died. She was accompanied by a rookie FBI agent out of the Houston office, Rob Foster, a former college baseball player who had never conducted a field investigation and who also knew nothing about horse racing.

Quickly, the word spread among the Bluegrass aristocracy that a couple of outsiders intended to pry into their private business. Tomala and Foster had been seen in Alydar’s stall at Calumet, at a veterinary clinic, even at a construction site, where a former Calumet groom had gone to work as a laborer.

What, people wondered, did this prosecutor think she was going to learn about Alydar that wasn’t already known? And why, after all this time, did it matter?

It would not be until October 2000, almost ten years after Alydar’s death, that Tomala would finally reveal what she had been doing. At a little-publicized hearing in a nearly empty federal courtroom in Houston, she stood before a judge and said that the death of Alydar was no accidental tragedy. Alydar, she

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