While everyone waits on the fire investigator’s report about the barn fire that led to the death of eight horses near a suburban Lake Worth polo club two weekends ago, polo players and supporters are coming together to help those who suffered losses that day.
Tim Gannon, a player and head of the Outback Polo Trust, helped organize a fundraiser for Omar Cepeda and Juan Valerdi, who are visiting the area for the winter, an official said. The event is set for 6 p.m. Saturday at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington.
Gannon, a co-founder of Outback Steakhouse, said all it took to get the polo community together was a letter seeking $1,000 contributions from 100 people. They’ve already received more than $60,000 in donations.
“We’re doing this charity to bring everyone together so we can hand them a check for $100,000,” Gannon said. “It’s a tragic event for someone to lose that many horses at one time.”
U.S. Polo Association records show Cepeda has been one of its members since 1986. The 49-year-old is an American citizen and has a South Carolina address.
Valerdi, 32, is from Argentina and has a Kentucky address. He’s been a member of the national polo association since 2001.
Peter Rizzo, CEO of the U.S. Polo Association said he knows the two men, whom he called “long-term horse owners” because they want to be involved with and be around their horses.
“These are experienced professionals,” Rizzo said. “I know that those two guys are mourning their loss and not just the dollars and cents.”
The thoroughbreds were bought for as much as $50,000 each.
Still, uncertainty surrounds the property where the fire started as well as what will happen next.
Last week, officials updated the address of the fire. Initial calls to 911 said the fire was at Gulfstream Polo Club’s 4550 Polo Road address, said Palm Beach County Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Albert Borroto. However, he said the barn, located on nearby Hooks Road and accessed through the same entrance off Lake Worth Road as is the polo club, is privately owned.
Gulfstream’s general manager Marla Connor said the club’s 100 acres is surrounded by several privately-owned farms, including the one where the fire started.
County records show the property where the barn sits has ties to Stephen August Orthwein, whose mailing address is listed as St. Louis, Mo. Orthwein is a descendant of Adolphus Busch, founder of the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company.
Several calls to numbers available for Orthwein were not answered.
Fire rescue crews were called to the 50-year-old barn shortly after noon March 9 to reports of the fire. When they arrived, at least 10 stalls were engulfed in flames, Borroto said. Seven of the thoroughbreds died during the blaze. Three others were taken to Palm Beach Equine Clinic, where one had to be euthanized the same day. The remaining two, Mili and Moneda, were tended to and released this past Tuesday, said clinic president and veterinarian Dr. Scott Swerdlin.
“They’re doing great,” he said.
Fire investigators’ initial report suggested the fire began after an electrical overload in a tack room that was being used as a kitchen, but Connor denied the investigators’ claim about the room.
“It’s just a regular tack room,” Connor said, citing “misinformation”.