What happened to a Thoroughbred after it finished racing barely registered as an issue with most industry stakeholders 25 years ago.
“Nobody cared,” said Delaware owner/breeder Herb Moelis, a New York businessman who bought a farm he named Candyland in 1986. What awoke Moelis and his wife, Ellen, to the fate of ex-racehorses was an article about horses being abandoned at Delaware Park when the track’s meet was done.
“The good horses moved on, and the poor runners were just left in the stalls,” Moelis remembered. “They just shut the gates, and they died there.”
The Moelises’ eyes had been opened, and they began looking for solutions. They started with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, an organization supported by a trust created by Paul Mellon, and a handful of small rescue organizations. Herb Moelis said he quickly discovered the root of the problem: the funding didn’t exist to provide anything approaching adequate retirement or retraining options for these horses.
“The TRF couldn’t help because it was everything they could do to fund their own operation,” Moelis said. “We realized the smaller organizations needed help, so the concept of a United Way-type group came about.”
The Moelises and prominent owner/breeder Allaire duPont organized a stallion season auction to start raising money. Five stallion seasons were sold through a silent auction in the living room of the Moelises’ home on Candyland in 1990. The fledgling event raised $15,000.
“Listen, even to raise $15,000 was a lot of money at the time,” Moelis said recently. “The event was strictly a local thing in the beginning, held in the middle of the winter when there wasn’t a lot else going on. It eventually increased and became the event of the year.”
The auction grew into the Thoroughbred Charities of America, and its impact was felt immediately.
“You don’t know what you’ve done,” said one owner of a small rescue operation when she spied the Moelises in the lobby of a movie theater a couple of years after their fundraising started.
The event gained momentum and supporters. Eventually TCA was incorporated as an endowment to support charities involved in rescue, aftercare education, and research. Joining the Moelises and duPont in supporting the cause were Dr. Jim and Toni Orsini, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, Betty Moran, and Kathleen Crompton.
In 2000 the TCA joined forces with the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, which had been holding its own stallion season auction fundraiser. TCA retained the name of the event, and TOBA received a portion of the auction proceeds to help offset what it would lose by not holding its own event. By 2008 TCA officially became the charitable arm of TOBA.
“I was getting concerned that it was a small group running things and that if something happened to us then the organization would disappear,” Moelis said. “We thought an organization like TOBA would keep it around for a long while.”
Since its inception the 25-year-old TCA has raised more than $20 million and provided support to more than 200 organizations.
Moelis said the organization’s growth has exceeded his most optimistic expectations, and he is thrilled with the implementation of check-off programs by The Jockey Club, Keeneland, and Fasig-Tipton, which all raise money for aftercare charities. But Moelis also recognizes that much more remains to be done.
“The funding is still inadequate, but it has at least started,” he said.
As important as the money, said Moelis, is continuing the education about providing a future for ex-racehorses.
“Our main goal was to raise awareness, but the only way to raise awareness is to raise money,” he said. “I think we laid the groundwork for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, and the Retired Racehorse Project has put us on the right road now by focusing on retraining.
“The industry is finally waking up.”