Authorities in the Pacific Northwest are investigating the disappearance of an award-winning, multi-million dollar stallion whose trainer said the horse was stolen from his stable last Friday.
The trainer, a convicted drug felon, claims the theft was an inside job, but the local sheriff's office has not yet determined whether a crime was committed and even suggested it might know the location of the horse.
Capone I, a 12-year-old black Holsteiner whose valuable seed has already produced three foal crops, was reported missing after Douglas Spink, the horse's trainer, left the animal unattended for roughly three hours. Handlers arrived later in the afternoon to find the prized stud gone.
"His stall door, which has a significant latch on it, was open," Spink told ABC News. "His halter and lead rope were gone, and he was gone."
Spink had left the barn, where he lives and trains Capone and other stallions, for a weekend hike. When the afternoon staff arrived, they assumed Spink had taken Capone for the weekend for a trail ride and did not report the animal missing. When Spink returned from his hike Sunday, he said he panicked and called 911 to report Capone missing.
"This is a nightmare," Spink said. "Short of him being injured or dead, I have worried about exactly this."
The German-born showjumping horse, whose value is estimated at more than $5 million and who has claimed a quarter-million dollars in prize money during competitions, was not insured because of the prohibitive cost of the policy, according to Spink.
"Insurance is so expensive for horses of this value that it's financially cost-prohibitive to insure him for anything close to his actual value," he said.
Spink, who is not a member of the Capone's small ownership group, is curious what somebody would want to do with him. The horse has a specific brand identifying him and could not be shown competitively, the trainer said, because someone in the showjumping community — already buzzing in the blogosphere about the missing stallion — would inevitably recognize him. Spink said horse owners are typically reluctant to use sperm from a stolen stud, making it unlikely that someone would steal him in order to breed with mares for stud fees.
Spink suspected that he might receive some sort of ransom note in connection to the missing horse — but so far has not. He said there is one former associate with whom business soured whom he believes may be involved.
He also believes that he will know the person who has Capone. "This was obviously done by someone who had a pretty good feeling that I wasn't going to be there this weekend," he said.
Jeff Parks, chief criminal deputy for the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office, confirmed to ABC News that an investigator had been assigned to follow up on Spink's allegations. "We do have a detective assigned to the case," he said, "and are still trying to decide whether it's something that could be filed criminally with a prosecutor."
While acknowledging that Spink did report the animal missing, Parks said that authorities are still trying to sift through the exact details of the animal's ownership. The stud is owned by Exitpoint Stallions, a private corporation described on its Web site as specializing in "the development and active sharing of a system of stallion management that embodies respect, kindness, empathy and understanding between equine and human."