Charity or Obligation - By Herb Moelis

(Originally published in the April 3, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

Twenty years ago the late Allaire du Pont wrote a scathing but touching letter about the abuse and neglect of some racehorses when they had reached the end of their racing careers. The letter was about trainers abandoning horses in closed stalls at the end of a meet. This was done usually with approval or even upon direction of the owners.

My wife, Ellen, and I read the letter, published in the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, and decided something had to be done to correct this. Of course, it meant raising money. We met with Mrs. du Pont and came up with the idea of horses helping horses—a stallion season sale. This was the seed that eventually grew to be Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA), the largest grantor of funds to aid retired horses in the Thoroughbred industry.

Because I am now retiring as president of TCA after 20 years, I would like to outline the growth and what I see as the future of the organization and the “retired horse.”

Our first stallion season auction consisted of seasons to Maryland stallions and raised $15,000, which was given to one organization, for the simple reason that there was only one organization involved in horse rescue and retirement. Not much money was raised, but the concept appeared to be a good one.

Over the next few years we expanded our solicitation of seasons to include Kentucky, Florida, New York, and other states. Most importantly, Fasig-Tipton volunteered its services as auctioneers. The proceeds increased to $1 million, and we were able to support many groups involved with rescuing and retraining retired racehorses. We were also able to expand the TCA mission not only to provide a better life for Thoroughbreds during and after their racing careers, but also to include backstretch and farm employees who work with them.

About four years ago TCA affiliated with the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and the auction was moved from our Candyland Farm in Delaware to Keene­land in Kentucky, with Keeneland donating the use of its facilities to conduct the live auction. Interestingly, this was the first time Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton worked together on an auction. The result was that proceeds raised soared to $2 million. To date, about $18 million in grants has been distributed to more than 200 equine organizations in 38 states.

This history and the money raised by TCA are impressive, but not nearly enough to cope with the problem of the neglected or unwanted horse after racing. With economic conditions what they are right now, many owners simply cannot afford to maintain and care for their horses. The bottom line is there are many more unwanted, neglected Thoroughbreds for us to care for. This means much more money is needed. 

The solution, and my hope for the next 20 years, is simple. This should not be a charity but rather an industry obligation. Most of the stallion farms have been generous, and have been doing their share by donating seasons to the TCA auction. The Jockey Club has instituted a “Foal Check Off” plan that basically assesses breeders.

How about the racetracks and owners, where annual purses are about $1 billion? How about purchasers and sellers at the sale companies’ auctions, where about $652 million changes hands every year? How about the vets, trainers, and jockeys, all of whom make their living from racehorses? If we were to assess a small percentage on everyone who participates in the Thoroughbred industry, we could accomplish our mission without burdening any one sector.

My point is pretty obvious. The necessary funds are there to care properly for racehorses when their careers end. We, as an industry, must step up and support a program that is an obligation, not a charity—to support racehorse retraining and retirement. The Jockey Club foal check off initiative is an excellent start. TCA stands ready to support, promote, and help administer the expansion of a program involving other industry organizations.

I am proud of the fact that over the past 20 years, TCA has made giant inroads into a problem that seemed insurmountable. The ultimate solution, however, is that this must become an industry obligation.

Allaire du Pont understood this. Ellen and I, and countless others, have as well.

As I retire from TCA, my dream is that everyone in this industry understands. 

Herb Moelis is retiring as head of Thoroughbred Charities of America

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