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Van wreck made worse with 'ransom'


A wreck in Virginia that killed the horse-hauler John "Jack" Mount began a bizarre tale of Middle East-style negotiations for the release of injured racehorses "held for ransom."

Mount, who rented an apartment in Laurel, was killed Sept. 8 in the accident that by itself could be called bizarre.

A longtime driver of horse vans, Mount, 70, was transporting two horses - Casper Can Fly and Willamette - from trainer Dale Capuano's barn at Laurel Park to Colonial Downs in Virginia.

As Mount, the horses and their grooms proceeded south on Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg, Va., something, possibly a barbecue grill, flew off the bed of a pickup truck. Lucy Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, said Friday this is what happened:

The driver of a tractor-trailer truck braked to avoid the item, and the horse van rammed the back of the tractor-trailer.

The van careened onto the median. Mount was thrown from the cab and killed. The horse trailer broke free and crashed onto its side.

The cab continued across the median into the northbound lanes. It slammed into an oncoming vehicle. Two other cars avoided that crash but collided. The driver of the northbound vehicle was critically injured and remains in serious condition at Fairfax Hospital.

The two grooms, Matt Dopson and Jose Miranda, were treated and released. And the two horses, stunned but still secured in their traveling stalls, suffered minor cuts and bruises, Capuano said.

"The grooms said they just lay there quiet afterward," Capuano said. "They didn't thrash around. They must have been in shock."

Casper Can Fly, a 4-year-old son of Chenin Blanc, was slated to run that day in a $25,000 claiming race. He had finished first, second or third in seven of 13 starts. Willamette, a 3-year-old daughter of the same sire, was entered in a $25,000 maiden-claiming race. She had finished fifth in her only start.

The collisions backed up traffic for 10 miles and closed the northbound lanes for three hours, Caldwell said. State police cars, ambulances and MedEvac helicopters rushed to the scene.

A veterinarian from the Spotsylvania County animal-control office and a private veterinarian treated the horses, and then the state police arranged for their transportation to a nearby farm.

Capuano talked by phone later that day to John Towers, the man who transported the horses to the farm. Capuano said he and Towers agreed the horses would stay overnight until Capuano could send for them.

Capuano called Towers about 11 a.m. the next day - the horses had been there about 24 hours - and asked, "What do I owe you?"

According to Capuano and the horses' owner, Rick Englander, who lives in New York, Towers said he wanted more than $4,000. Englander said the exact amount was $4,510: $1,500 for hauling the horses to the farm, $2,500 for watching the horses overnight and $510 for a veterinarian who treated the horses at the accident.

"I was quiet for a minute; I was in shock," said Capuano, believing that $500 would have been generous. "Then I began to get highly upset.

"It was like he was holding the horses for ransom."

That began 2 1/2 days of telephone negotiations, often fiery among Capuano, Englander and Towers. Finally, three days after the wreck, they agreed to terms. Capuano said he sent Towers $2,400 cash.

Capuano and Englander said they believed the amount was outrageous, but they wanted their horses back.

The horses are now at Summer Wind Farm in Libertytown. Capuano said he expects their return to his barn within two weeks.

Englander also said he paid a veterinarian from an equine clinic in Spotsylvania $830 for services at the accident scene and the farm. The veterinarian did not return phone calls.

Towers did, but declined answering questions.

He identified the farm as Hollow Oaks, but said he didn't own it or manage it or even work there.

"They can't afford me," he said.

Asked what he does for a living, he said: "Speculate."

Speculate on what? "Anything."

When told of that conversation, Capuano laughed and said: "This is the kind of guy I was dealing with. Unbelievable."

Trading critical reviews

An advisory committee chaired by Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, issued a report Thursday critical of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the sport's "league office." The committee was formed to address issues of particular concern to Mid-Atlantic tracks.

Primarily, the report criticizes the NTRA for its relationship with Television Game Network, the 24-hour horse-racing channel, and its potential relationship with IBM Global Services that could result in development of an industry-wide totalisator company.

Although the 15-page report promotes open dialogue and De Francis stressed its "constructive, not destructive" nature, it came under immediate attack.

Alan Foreman, a Baltimore lawyer and an NTRA director, said: "There was a confidentiality lid placed on this issue until the NTRA could see the report and deal with it. It was released to the press before I had a chance to see it. That brings into question the motives of the people behind it."

Even members of the committee disavowed it. Stuart S. Janney III, who lives in Butler, said members were never asked to vote on its conclusions and several he knows disagree with them.

Off, on the track

Leucadia National Corp., the New York investment company that owns a minority interest in Pimlico and Laurel Park, has expressed an interest in buying the New York City Off-track Betting Corp. It includes 75 parlors and a telephone-betting operation.

Nine other entities also expressed interest, including an alliance of the New York Racing Association and Television Games Network, Churchill Downs and Frank Stronach's Magna Entertainment Corp.

This is West Virginia Breeders weekend at Charles Town. It concludes today with five $75,000 races and the $225,000 West Virginia Breeders Classic. Post time is 1 p.m.

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