Toronto·Exclusive

Ontario man alleges family charged with killing 13 horses bilked him of $27K

A family facing animal cruelty charges for allegedly letting 13 horses die while starving 15 others is now being accused of fraud by the owner of an Ontario farm they were renting, CBC Toronto has learned.

Michael Cheung, who purchased shares in 3 thoroughbred yearlings, is accusing Speedsport Stables of fraud

Michael Cheung has accused Speedsport Stables of fraud after he paid the company $27,000 for a 50 per cent stake in three thoroughbred yearlings he claims they didn't own. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

A family facing animal cruelty charges for allegedly letting 13 horses die while starving 15 others is now being accused of fraud by the owner of an Ontario farm they were renting, CBC Toronto has learned. 

Michael Cheung, 45, alleges Speedsport Stables sold him three young horses they didn't own and bilked him of $27,000. 

Last September, Cheung bought what he thought was a 50 per cent stake in the thoroughbred yearlings, young horses under the age of two, that were allegedly owned by Speedsport Stables. 

The trio cost $20,057, plus half their monthly boarding expenses.

Invoices obtained by CBC Toronto reveal that Cheung paid Speedsport Stables a total of $7,000 between October and January to cover these additional costs.    

The name Signature Red, the alleged thoroughbred yearling Michael Cheung owned with Speedsport Stables, is already registered to a 12-year-old stallion. (Greg Ross/CBC)

"They claimed they would train them for one year and they would make it into Woodbine Racetrack the following year, when they're two years old," he said. 

Their training was to prepare them to race at Woodbine Racetrack's Canadian Millions Night in August, explained Cheung, who is also the director of finance at two car dealerships. 

"They were saying that if your horses make it to the race, doesn't matter if they win or lose, there is supposed to be a lot of purses and prizes from Woodbine and OLG."    

Michael Cheung says David and Victoria Small assured him that his part ownership of three yearlings would be lucrative when the thoroughbreds started racing at Woodbine Racetrack this summer. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

He added that David and Victoria Small, who sold Cheung the yearlings through Speedsport Stables, told him he would earn $100,000 from this race to recoup his investment. 

"I'm pretty much a risk taker," Cheung said of his desire to invest in the horses. "If it's not going to break my bank and if it's something new that I might be interested in, I don't mind investing a little bit of money."    

Court Vision was the third thoroughbred yearling Michael Cheung says he owned a share in. (Greg Ross/CBC)

Cheung started renting his 10-acre farmland and barnyard in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., to Speedsport Stables around the same time he purchased stakes in the yearlings. 

According to Ontario corporation records, Speedsport Stables, which started in 2016, is owned by Victoria "Vicki" Small. But its clients say the horse boarding company was a family business run by four members: Victoria Small, her husband David, and their two sons, Jason and Michael. 

Three members of the Small family — David, Victoria and Jason — are charged with a total of nine animal cruelty offences following an investigation of the rural property by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA). 

David, Victoria and Jason Small are accused of allowing an animal to be in distress, failing to provide adequate food and failing to provide care necessary for general welfare between April 1 and 22. If convicted, they could face a maximum penalty of two years in prison, a $60,000 fine, or both, under the OSPCA Act. 

Cheung has since filed a fraud complaint against Speedsport Stables and David and Victoria Small with York Regional Police for the $27,000 he spent on the yearlings from September to January. 

"They're smart about it, to think back, because these three horses were kept in the best condition because these were the only horses I would look at," said Cheung. 

Speedsport Stables started renting this 10-acre farmland and barnyard in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., from Michael Cheung in September. (CBC)

Jason Small, 32, acknowledged that his father and Cheung had a 50 per cent partnership in the yearlings. 

"Michael had bought three yearlings," he said. "Three that we picked up from the track last year, brought back, cared for for the winter and honestly I don't know what happened to [them] now." 

The deal between Speedsport Stables and Cheung saw the fees for the yearlings "off-set through the rent" the Small family owed, he explained. The company paid Cheung $5,500 per month to rent his rural property. 

"Every month there was a bill issued for care of the horses and then the difference between the two was cut in a cheque," said Jason. 

Jason Small, 32, and his parents, David and Victoria, are facing animal cruelty charges. (Facebook)

When Cheung purchased his stake in the thoroughbred yearlings, he says they weren't named. Instead, he was given their alleged lip tattoo numbers and a promise from David and Victoria that he could name them. 

CBC Toronto learned that these lip tattoo numbers don't exist, according to thoroughbred registration records with the Jockey Club, an organization who manages thoroughbred horse pedigrees in North America.

Thoroughbred yearlings also aren't assigned lip tattoo numbers until they reach racing age in Canada and the U.S. At this time, the horses are required by most state and province commission rules to be lip tattooed to participate in an official thoroughbred race. 

'It wasn't even for sale'

When Cheung seized his property, located 50 kilometres north of Toronto, from the Small family on April 22, because he claims they hadn't paid rent for four months, he learned one of the yearlings he was sold didn't belong to Speedsport Stables.   

"That horse wasn't supposed to be sold to me," he said. "It wasn't even for sale." 

Michael Cheung bought a share in Miss Polly Cat from Speedsport Stables, who didn't own the horse. Instead, the three-year-old thoroughbred mare belongs to Harvey Schwartz. (Greg Ross/CBC)

Instead, the yearling was named Miss Polly Cat and is privately owned by Harvey Schwartz. He was boarding the three-year-old thoroughbred mare at Speedsport Stables so it could herd with other horses its age, said trainer Ricky Griffith.  

Miss Polly Cat was returned to Schwartz and relocated. 

Jason Small claims Cheung was never sold a share in this horse.

The other two yearlings Cheung claims he bought, had the names Signature Red and Court Vision branded onto the bridles they were wearing.  

According to thoroughbred registration records from the Jockey Club, both names are registered as stallions, and therefore cannot belong to another thoroughbred horse in North America.  

Signature Red is a 12-year-old stallion who is currently being bred at Adena Springs North in Aurora, Ont.

Court Vision is a 13-year-old stallion living in the U.S. 

"I slowly bought into this horse story," said Cheung. 

When working with neighbours to find the owners of 14 horses and a pony near starvation that the Small family left on the farm, Cheung learned that at least one of the yearlings, and possibly both, had been purchased at Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society auctions last year. 

The horses have since been moved away from the farm. 

"All in all, the three of them were never taken care of," Cheung said. 

Have a tip about Speedsport Stables? Send it to Amara McLaughlin at amara.mclaughlin@cbc.ca or 416-205-5747, or to Greg Ross at greg.ross@cbc.ca or 416-414-9649.  

About the Author

Amara McLaughlin

Online reporter, CBC Toronto

Amara McLaughlin is a digital journalist at CBC Toronto. Originally from Alberta, she began her journalism career in Calgary but now calls Toronto home. Contact her at: amara.mclaughlin@cbc.ca.

With files from Greg Ross