The Jockey Club has pledged its continued support for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, the country’s largest equine retirement program that has come under scrutiny over the past week.
In a statement following publication of a New York Times article alleging that some horses at farms under TRF care were starving and were in poor health, James L. Gagliano, president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club said the breed registry organization would continue to support the aftercare program while looking into the matters covered in the Times article.
“The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation has done terrific work with retired Thoroughbreds for a long period of time,” Gagliano said in the statement. “We are working with the foundation’s board and management team to get a better understanding of this matter and to ensure that all TRF horses are cared for in the appropriate manner. We will continue to support retirement efforts, including those of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and we encourage others in the Thoroughbred industry to do the same.”
In conjunction with a checkoff program that enables owners and breeders to support Thoroughbred aftercare programs at the time they register their horses, The Jockey Club has contributed $300,000 to both the TRF and Thoroughbred Charities of America since 2009, including 2011 contributions.
Founded in 1983, TRF oversees the care of nearly 1,200 retired Thoroughbreds housed at satellite farms under contract with the organization and at correctional facilities where inmates care for the horses and learn vocational skills.
Under TJC’s checkoff program, breeders can select from a menu of four graduated amounts or select their own amount of contribution to the aftercare programs. Funds from The Jockey Club checkoff program to TRF are specifically designated for the vocational training programs at correctional facilities.
The Times article, published on the newspaper's front page March 19, cited inspections made by a veterinarian to farms contracted to TRF that found horses were undernourished and poor health. The veterinarian conducting the inspections, Dr. Stacey Huntington, had been retained by the estate of the late prominent horse breeder and owner Paul Mellon to visit the farms and look at the TRF herd.
The Mellon estate is one of the TRF’s largest benefactors, having donated about $7 million. Under its agreement with the estate, the TRF is restricted to using about $350,000 per year for the care of horses.
While the TRF supported the Mellon estate paying for the satellite farm inspections, the organization said the Times article, based on reports from Huntington, mischaracterized situations at the farms. The Times article said some of the circumstances found during the inspections were due to the farms not being paid by TRF for caring for the horses.
Tom Ludt, TRF chairman, acknowledged TRF was behind in payments to farms, but said the situation was not as dire as that painted by the article. He said that when inspections revealed problems at farms, the TRF was quick to take action.
In another development subsequent to the publication of the Times article, the Mellon estate has suspended the inspections by Huntington.
The TRF, however, has found another source of revenue to pay for such inspections to be undertaken by other veterinarians, according to a report posted on The Paulick Report website. Ray Paulick, The Paulick Report’s founder, is a member of the TRF board. According to his blog post, the herd evaluations will be funded by TRF board member John Rainey.