About 20 horses neglected, malnourished, and eventually abandoned on a Bourbon County farm operating under the name Whispering Creek Thoroughbreds are at the center of an animal abuse investigation launched March 19 by the county sheriff’s department and Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
Xavier Mcgrapth, the owner of the fledging boarding and training business responsible for the horses, has gone missing as has at least one horse that was in his care.
“Deputies responded to the scene and immediately started an investigation into the welfare of the equine present,” read an April 7 statement from Major Brent Wilson with the Bourbon County Sheriff’s office. “The Bourbon County Sheriff’s Office has received support from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, who assisted us with locating and contacting owners and starting the process of relocated horses to a safe environment for care and treatment. They are also assisting with the investigation and sent an investigator to work closely with us throughout the case. As of now, all horses have been identified and the process of relocating them to various locations is coming to an end.”
The statement did note investigators have identified a suspect, but did not name Mcgrapth.
“A criminal complaint has been issued. This investigation is still ongoing, and all authorities involved are actively working together to bring this to a close,” the statement read.
When Bourbon County deputies arrived at the farm on Brentsville Road, northwest of Paris, Ky., they found horses in varying degrees of malnourishment and two were reportedly dead, according to several of Mcgrapth’s clients.
New York owner/breeder Blaine Gerow was one of approximately 15 owners that had horses boarded with Mcgrapth and was among the first to learn about the neglect. He’d sent his 4-year-old homebred filly Kastanyas to Mcgrapth as a layup.
“My horse, she raced last year and still had a lot of growing to do, so I gave her some time off,” Gerow said. “Xavier had a partner and they seemed to be doing really well. I checked references and got four good references before I sent her down there. She was supposed to be conditioned with some hill work and using the TheraPlate. It was why I sent her down there in mid-December.
“At first I talked with him all the time, and he sent me pictures, then he started giving me reasons why he couldn’t send pictures. I got suspicious,” he said.
Gerow had been told his filly was at the Thoroughbred Training Center north of Lexington but when he called March 22 to verify she was there, someone with the security office told him the filly was actually on Mcgrapth’s farm.
Gerow also soon learned that Bourbon Country Sheriff’s deputies had already visited Mcgrapth’s operation and started an investigation.
“She was supposed to go back to the track this month. Instead of being in condition, she is in horrible shape,” Gerow said. “Better than most of them, but she probably won’t race again. It has been five years between breeding and training her. I just have to be sure she gets a good home. She’ll probably just be someone’s pasture mate.”
The Bourbon County Sheriff’s office, which was initially contacted by one of Mcgrapth’s clients, also contacted Steve Johnson, who owns the property and has leased it to Mcgrapth since the beginning of 2020. Johnson has a long career managing and operating Central Kentucky horse farms.
“He contacted me about leasing the place. He was this young guy trying to get started, and I wanted to help him out,” said Johnson. “I have leased barns and farms before and it was Xavier’s deal. He had worked at Pin Oak and had good references, so I thought it was going to be OK. It was not.”
Clifford Barry, general manager at Pin Oak Stud, confirmed that Mcgrapth did work there for a couple of years as a groom.
“He was a good caretaker while he was here, but he was under strict supervision. He worked hard and showed up every day,” Barry recalled. “It is disappointing to hear what’s happened. He was here long enough to learn how to do it right and care for the animals. There is no stone left unturned. You feel most for the horses, who are always the first priority.”
Johnson said he first started seeing signs of trouble when Mcgrapth missed his lease payment in November. Mcgrapth continued to miss payments through January.
“What I could see up front looked OK. I told him a couple times he needed to feed more hay because the horses were looking a little light but everything seemed to be going well,” Johnson continued. “Also, there were a lot professionals in and out of that barn—vets, farriers, horse ID people. Then Xavier disappeared, so they were abandoned. I have been caring and feeding these horses for over a month.”
As of April 7, Johnson said only three horses previously under the care of Mcgrapth remained on the farm, and he expected they would be relocated to other farms this week.
Not all horses have been accounted for, however, according to Amanda Scarsella, another New York owner/breeder who sent horses to Mcgrapth when he started his business last year. Her 5-year-old Uncle Mo mare Fresh Face, who she bought in Kentucky last fall, was not among the horses documented by Bourbon County Sheriff’s deputies.
“When they did the seizure of the horses, my mare was nowhere to be found,” said Scarsella, who had been tipped off about problems on the farm by Gerow. “Xavier went radio silent since then and has not said where he moved my horse and apparently some other horses.”
Scarsella said she has not had any communication from Mcgrapth since March 29.
Scarsella did recover five other young horses she sent down for breaking and training—three 2-year-old fillies and two 3-year-old colts.
“The three fillies can come home but the colts aren’t strong enough to make the trip yet,” she said. “They have to be boarded in Kentucky, but they’re done as racehorses. They’ve lost too much time.”
She said her three fillies are malnourished and have skin conditions but are not in a dangerous condition. The colts, who are in the only crop sired by the late New York sire Effinex, she said have body condition scores around 1.5. Their hip bones and back bones are protruding and their ribs are showing, according to Scarsella. The Henneke body condition score system rates horses from 1-9, with a 1 being poor condition. She also said her colts’ coats are infested with lice and damaged by bacterial and fungal infections.
Scarsella said she is still stunned by how quickly everything deteriorated with Mcgrapth.
Last year she connected with Mcgrapth after seeing an ad for his new business venture on Facebook.
“The place he was leasing looked nice and here was a young man starting out. I’m 33 and know how hard it is to get your foothold in the industry,” Scarsella said. “His credentials checked out fine. I sent 12 mares and eight had foals with them last year. Everything for the most part went really well and everyone came back in good order, except for a mare that supposedly died. I got a call in July that my mare Remember the Alimo supposedly dropped dead in the field. I get it. Horses can die, but I asked if it was colic or an aneurysm, and I never really got an answer. She was a 5-year-old Uncle Mo mare that just checked in foal to Goldencents .”
Because everything had gone relatively smoothly, Scarsella said she had no qualms about doing business again with Mcgrapth. She sent the five young horses to him with an agreement that after they had been broke and trained, she would send them to a trainer at either Belmont Park or Saratoga Race Course and then she and Mcgrapth would split any earnings. She also had been planning to send another 20 mares to Kentucky to be bred.
Then in March, Scarsella got a Facebook message from Gerow that warned her to have someone check on her horses at Mcgrapth’s farm.
“I tried to give Xavier the benefit of the doubt and asked him to send me pictures of my horses so I could put eyes on them,” she said. “After three days of excuses and no pictures, red flags are going off. We reached out to some of our Kentucky contacts to get eyes on our horses and then everything blew up. We started hearing there were dead horses in the field.”
Scarsella said she had never received a bill for having a rendering service pick up the body of her dead mare and doubts Mcgrapth would have picked up the cost. Then, when she discovered Fresh Face missing, she began to question whether Remember the Alimo had actually died.
“I filed charges with the Bourbon County Sheriff’s office for the theft of Fresh Face and also on Remember the Alimo because I have no proof she actually died,” said Scarsella. “Once Xavier’s found, I’m moving forward with a lawsuit.
“It is a giant web of crap,” Scarsella continued. “It is not just that my horses were starved and one possibly stolen; it is maybe you’re not going to be breeding this year and your mares’ pages are damaged because your homebreds aren’t going to make it to the track.
“I don’t want to see this swept under a rug. I want this to be open and shut.”