CHRB Supports Owners' Plan for Retired Racehorses

CHRB Supports Owners' Plan for Retired Racehorses
Preliminary approval of a plan by the Thoroughbred Owners of California to create a charitable fund for retired racehorses was granted by the state horse racing board during its meeting at Del Mar on July 19.

The TOC proposes to deduct a modest .3% of purses earned in Thoroughbred races for the establishment of the fund, which is designed for the care of horses that raced primarily in California.

The purse money would be deposited in a new entity called the California Retirement Management Account, or CARMA. Owners who choose not to participate would be able to opt out by notifying the paymaster of purses. 

The CHRB, by a 6-1 vote, approved the proposed rule amendment for a 45-day public comment period. Commissioner John Harris voted against it -- not that he opposed the concept, he said -- but because he felt there wasn’t enough data to know if it would be effective.

"I don’t think this proposal has a good enough foundation," Harris said.

Chairman Richard Shapiro said the TOC, with the commission’s approval, "is laying the foundation" for a future in which the California racing industry takes seriously its obligations to horses that can no longer compete.

"There are thousands of owners like myself who unfortunately, don’t have a farm to send their horse to (when they are done racing)," he said. "What do we do with those horses? All we are trying to do is build a revenue stream" for their ongoing care.

The commission heard a presentation from TOC chairman Marsha Naify, owner Madeline Auerbach and Priscilla Clark of Tranquility Farm, a retirement facility in Tehachapi, Calif., with about 100 horses.

Based on the $150 million distributed in purses in 2006, Naify estimated that $450,000 could be generated for the fund annually if no owners were to opt out of the account. Otherwise, she estimated it at about $400,000.

She said the .3% figure was arrived at "because it was something that owners could go with."

Naify said some members of the TOC felt it wasn’t enough but others "don’t want to do anything.

"We tried to fashion something that is a compromise to get the board’s approval," she said.

Auerbach agreed, saying the percentage is small enough that most owners will go along. Once established, she said she believes it will also help TOC get private donations for the cause as well.

In 2006, Clark said 8,600 horses started in California.

"Thousands of people, thousands of owners, are confronted with the dilemma of what to do with these horses when they can no longer run," she said.

Farms like hers can rehabilitate and re-train Thoroughbreds for useful second careers, she said. But it is expensive. Tranquility Farm had an operating budget of $350,000 in 2006, she said.

Scoop Vessels, a major horse owner and breeder in California, asked if the account’s sponsors had adequately considered how much it costs to keep a horse retirement home going.

"I will tell you that the worst thing in the world that could happen is to have a facility fail and you have 200 to 300 horses needing a home," he said.

Commissioner John Amerman, reconfirmed to the board for a new term this week by the state senate, applauded the TOC’s effort but questioned whether it would be enough to make an impact.

"I think it has to be bigger than just the owners," he said, suggesting that jockeys, trainers and racing associations need to kick in as well.

Naify agreed and said that she wants to eventually "expand this program to everyone in the industry."

Afterward, Naify said she was happy with the CHRB's backing and "satisfied we are moving forward with this, finally." She said the TOC has already received two private pledges of $5,000 apiece, and suggested that more people in the industry will get behind the fund once CARMA makes a successful launch.

Naify said the TOC would be in charge of distributing the fund and determining grant criteria. Under the proposed plan, the TOC, as part of its annual review by the CHRB, would submit audited financial statements from CARMA, she said.

The deputy attorney general’s office said the state legislature would need to enact a change in the law if the CHRB wanted purse deductions for horse retirement to be mandatory.

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