Success and notoriety have paced Maggi Moss through several careers that few Iowans have enjoyed even once. She rode out of Madison Square Garden three years in a row as the national equestrian champion, stunning the blue-blooded easterners who doubted civilization existed in Iowa. She was a feared prosecutor and later a defense attorney whose work on Long v. Broadlawns changed the way alcoholics are treated in Iowa’s criminal system. Her creative “Munchausen syndrome by proxy” defense in a burning baby case landed her on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and inspired the plots of numerous TV courtroom dramas. NBC’s “Dateline” called upon her expertise.
After abruptly leaving her law firm, she threw herself into horse racing. In 2006, Moss became the nation’s leading thoroughbred owner in number of wins. Since then, she has ranked in the top five every year in wins and in the top 10 every year in money won. She has also led the nation in percentage of races won (as high as one out of three) and races run in the money (as high as two out of three). Some handicappers believe those are historically unprecedented numbers in America. She did it with limited budgets and mostly with “claimers,” horses that other owners have given up on. Moss has been the leading winner at Churchill Downs three years in a row, Fairgrounds in New Orleans seven years in a row, Aqueduct in New York City and Prairie Meadows 15 years in a row. This year, she pulled her horses out of the Altoona track after losing a bid to keep the track kitchen open. We asked her to lunch to discuss the state of things with Prairie Meadows, horse racing in general and her post-partum experiences with the law. She chose Noah’s.
“I have been coming to Noah’s since I was 9 years old. I have lived my whole life in Noah’s neighborhood. I hear that there are some great new places now, but I don’t really feel like going downtown. I am a private person, believe it or not,” she explained.
Noah’s is a place for traditionalists. Many patrons have favorite rooms and even tables. Moss says she just wants a quiet spot. Since she rarely goes out, she ordered two meals — stuffed flounder for lunch and an Italian beef sandwich to save for another time. She used to order prime rib for her Jack Russell terriers at Prairie Meadows.
“Yeah, that became a very expensive habit. I am trying to stop myself,” she laughed.
This last winter was the first Moss ever spent outside Des Moines. She lived in Palm Beach with her mom.
“Wow did that make me appreciate Des Moines,” she said. “I cannot believe how unfriendly people were down there. One morning I was walking my dog, and this lady comes out of her house and tells me, ‘We really don’t need your kind here.’ I still don’t know what she meant by that. Did she think I was Latino or Italian or just Jewish? I am a bold bitch, but I am terrified by Palm Beach people. I will never return to southern Florida. The traffic is awful, and the people are worse.”
Since pulling her horses from Prairie Meadows, Moss has been racing at two Midwest tracks that are new to her.
“I love both Indianapolis and Minneapolis. It’s a happy/sad thing, though, because it reminds me what a lost opportunity Prairie Meadows has become for racing. Those other places are also casinos, but they understand that racing is good for everything. They promote horse racing as a family-friendly event. The last time I raced in Indianapolis, they were drawing 21,000 fans a day. I met the 1954 Milan High School basketball team (which inspired ‘Hoosiers’). They told me that (former Drake and NBA star) Bob Netolicky was there, too. I used to sneak out of my house to meet him when I was way too young to be doing such things. It was great to see him again,” she explained.
What went so wrong in Altoona?
“Back when I was practicing law, we were always aware of solid investigative reporting,” she said. “It was something that mattered. That is not so much the case anymore. Prairie Meadows was a gem of a facility, but politics changed everything. When I went before the (track) board to lobby for the track kitchen, I felt the little guys were getting squeezed. That kitchen provided two meals a day for workers who barely scraped out a living. The charitable nature of the track was being dumped. I never felt such contempt as I did before that board. They took my silks down after that, and they refused to renew my table, which I had reserved every year for 13 years.”
An IRS audit, triggered by a whistle blower, cost the track some $60 million in back taxes and fees. What does Moss think about that?
“I really get a chuckle out of people thinking I was the whistle blower. Personally, I hear it was a couple from out west who hunt IRS rewards as a profession. The awards are an incentive to many people,” she explained.
Does Moss miss practicing law?
“I miss helping people, and I still work for HART (Hope after Racing Thoroughbreds) and animal rescue groups,” she said. “But I really don’t miss the controversy. One of my last cases was one of the first sex abuse cases against the Roman Catholic Church. Law is like trying to hold up a giant wall that is crashing upon you. I burned out on the law. I cared too much. My father always told me I would have a hard time in life because my heart ruled my head.”■