Retired horse group based in Saratoga Springs denies neglect

The country’s largest thoroughbred horse retirement organization defended itself Friday against accu

The country’s largest thoroughbred horse retirement organization defended itself Friday against accusations of mistreatment and neglect of the former racehorses in its care.

Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation officials admitted, however, that the recent economic recession has been difficult for the organization, especially as it increased the number of older horses in its care from 300 to 1,200 in the past four years.

A story in Friday’s New York Times said the foundation has been “so slow or delinquent” in paying for the upkeep of the horses under its care and that “scores have wound up starved and neglected, some fatally.”

The foundation has headquarters on Elm Street in Saratoga Springs and holds a major fundraising gala and auction each summer during the racing meet at Saratoga Race Course. This year’s event will be at the Saratoga Springs City Center.

George Grayson, foundation president, said during a conference call Friday with reporters that the foundation is no longer accepting additional horses into its retirement program. The foundation currently cares for the older horses through contracts with more than 20 private horse farms in 16 states.

Foundation officials said they have gotten behind in paying the farms where the former racehorses are stabled but these farms “are still caring for the horses.”

The closest facility where the foundation has horses is at the Wallkill Correctional Facility, a state prison just north of Newburgh, said Diana Pikulski, the foundation’s development and fundraising coordinator. The Wallkill program has prison inmates care for the former racehorses.

Grayson and Thomas Ludt, chairman of the foundation board, held the conference call to dispute what they said were false claims and accusations in the lengthy story by New York Times reporter Joe Drape.

“The mission of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is to save thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete on the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse and slaughter,” Ludt said.

“As we have continued to communicate, fundraise and promote the TRF mission, we have had financial pressures put on us due to the economy affecting the donation levels of the past, and the lack of total industry support which has caused pressure on the TRF and its satellite farms,” Ludt said in a prepared statement.

Pikulski said 2009 was the most difficult fundraising year for the foundation, which posted a sizeable deficit that year. She said 2010 was much better but the foundation had to make up for a major drop in funds in 2009.

The organization receives money each year from a $7 million endowment from the estate of the late breeder and owner Paul Mellon but about $350,000 from this fund does not cover all the horse care and feeding bills.

The Mellon estate, in cooperation with the foundation, requested a veterinarian, Stacey Huntington, to evaluate the foundation’s herd. The New York Times story is based, in part at least, on comments from Huntington after she examined more than 700 horses at farms from Oklahoma to South Carolina.

Ludt and Grayson listed a number of procedures in place, prior to the New York Times story, to ensure the well-being of its herd, including:

* Daily communications with staff by TRF officers, and, at minimum, weekly executive committee meetings.

* More aggressive oversight by the herd management committee, chaired by prominent New York owner John Moore.

* Establishment of a veterinary liaison committee, chaired by Dr. Patty Hogan, working to get commitments from regional veterinary clinics for free or discounted services to all horse retirement organizations.

* Improved financial reporting and controls, which have been in effect for more than a year and have led to a more stable financial outlook for the TRF.

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