Horse Attitudes

Angel Usategui used to judge paso fino competitions at the highest level. An ethics scandal put an end to that and left him fighting to regain his good name.

In February of this year, Usategui filed a lawsuit in Dade Circuit Court, alleging defamation, conspiracy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The defendants include John Macdonald and his chemical company, Jose Luis Amador, and Howard Brody. Usategui seeks damages in excess of $100,000.

Bernard Weksler, his current attorney, also sent a letter to Jorge Amaro, a former president of the national Paso Fino Horse Association, asking that Amaro "cease and desist forthwith from making any more defamatory and slanderous remarks about Mr. Usategui." "We have heard from eight or nine people who say that Amaro is spreading unfounded rumors about my client," Weksler explains, "that he's disreputable, that he's unethical, that his vote is for sale."

Amaro promptly sued both Usategui and the attorney, alleging civil extortion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy. Although Amaro lives in Miami, the suit was filed by Macdonald's Tampa-based lawyer.

"The guy is a vindictive person," Macdonald says of Usategui. "He's suing seven or eight people and now he's being countersued. He's going to be spending the rest of his life in court." (Amaro declines to comment about the lawsuit.)

Usategui says he feels compelled to go to court, not out of vindictiveness, but in order to reclaim his reputation. "I call it like it is," he declares. "I could have been more political [at the National], but you know what? I want to go home and be able to go to sleep. The problem that Mr. Macdonald has is he has never been able to buy me. And nobody has been able to buy me. That's why they hate me so much, because I call it the way things are -- as I see it."

Sometimes, after he's done feeding his horses and cleaning their stalls, Usategui will pop the videotape of the 1995 Grand National Championship Show into his VCR. As he sits on the couch in the Florida room replaying the Perry competition, his thumb attacks the remote while his eyes view and review the pivotal moment of the exhibition. "Look!" he grumbles when a certain buckskin appears on the screen. "Anfitrion enters the gait off-step. That is simply not allowed! Every time I watch this tape it gets worse."

Afterward he might reach for another, newer tape from his collection. This one recounts the 1996 National, held in Memphis, Tennessee. Fast-forwarding impatiently, he'll reach the Classic Fino competition: a rematch between Anfitrion and 222.

Battling now in the adult class, the two horses are again responsive and flashy. Three completely different judges spend more than twenty minutes evaluating the two pasos, again isolating them for a head-to-head workoff. And in the end, no matter how many times Angel Usategui replays the tape, the result is the same.

222 wins the championship. Anfitrion comes in second.

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