TRURO, N.S. — The young filly could have been a contender.
An adjudicator says Putnam's Snowstorm had the right bloodlines and the speed to potentially be a winning harness racer.
But a mysterious "fluke" pregnancy diverted the yearling standardbred filly off the track — and landed three Nova Scotia horsemen in small claims court.
A ruling released this week said Emmons MacKay and Paul Smith bought Putnam's Snowstorm for $10,000 at the Classic Yearling Sale in Crapaud, P.E.I., in October 2017.
"(They) had selected this particular filly because her bloodlines suggested that she could be a contender ... they began training her with the intention of racing her in the 2018 racing season in the Atlantic provinces," said adjudicator Eric Slone.
"The training went well and she began to run some times that were close to what would have been indicative of a contender."
But six or seven months later, her racing times deteriorated and she began showing signs of pregnancy.
A vet soon confirmed it: Putnam's Snowstorm was pregnant. A foal was born not long afterwards.
"While an additional horse might in some situations be considered a plus, this particular colt has no commercial value because it is not a standardbred," said Slone.
MacKay and Smith did the math and realized the horse would have been two months pregnant when they bought her, but the seller, Shawn Putnam, hadn't told them.
Putnam, however, said he was shocked by the pregnancy, according to Slone's ruling. Putnam's Snowstorm had been separated from any male horses before she would have been considered fertile.
Except, that is, for one day when she was about 13 months old.
"He testified that there was an occasion where Putnam's Snowstorm had managed to escape her enclosure and was found hanging around with a couple of his males. He did not know how this happened," Slone said in his ruling.
"He testified that he thought she was too young to breed, and that there were no signs that anything had happened, such as unusual energy or agitation on her part or that of the colts. He believed at the time that it was an innocent encounter and only tracing back after the pregnancy was discovered, did he put two and two together and conclude that this must have been the time that she was impregnated."
Putnam was apologetic and said he felt "morally responsible," but he and MacKay and Smith could not come to an agreement on a fair compensation.
The two buyers claimed the small claims court's maximum of $25,000 for breach of contract and negligence, although they said their losses exceeded $99,000, including $57,513 in lost race earnings.
The filly was unable to race for most of the 2018 harness racing season.
"Putnam's Snowstorm was able to resume training late in the 2018 season, and raced in a few events, but the results were poor and no prize money was won," said Slone. "She is training to race in 2019 but is obviously ineligible to race in events limited to two-year-olds."
Putnam argued Putnam's Snowstorm still has a great potential future as a racehorse — and he said she could have had a better 2018 had MacKay and Smith started training her more quickly after she gave birth.
Also, he said, buying racehorses is simply a high risk endeavour.
In his ruling, Slone said the purchase had come with a seven-day warranty period — and had she been returned during that period, MacKay and Smith would have had a right to a refund. They could have had the horse checked by a vet, he said.
He said Putnam acted honestly, and was as shocked as anybody by the pregnancy.
"The event that occurred was a fluke, which took all parties by complete surprise," he said.
He dismissed the claim.
Rob Roberts, The Canadian Press