11/27/2013 1:59PM

Jay Hovdey: Tranquility Farm's fate needs industry's attention


Let us pause in the public rending of garments over the last days of Hollywood Park in order to give thanks and pay tribute to another Southern California institution sailing into the sunset.

Tranquility Farm, the Cadillac of the West’s all-purpose facilities serving those Thoroughbreds deemed no longer to be of use as racehorses or breeding stock, is down-sizing and relocating to Northern California near the town of Cottonwood, by the Sacramento River.

Under the full-time care of president Priscilla Clark, Tranquility has made its home in the foothills of the Tehachapis, 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles. With its noble herd that regularly topped 100, Tranquility Farm has been the answer to the question, “I wonder where so-and-so ended up?” when horseplayers gathered to mull the fate of many of their favorite hard-knockers over the past 15 years.

Long before Old Friends Equine in Kentucky made its name as a haven for retired headliners, Tranquility Farm gathered under its sheltering wings the likes of Santa Anita Derby winner Buddy Gil, Citation Handicap winner Southern Wish, Bay Shore Stakes winner Three Peat, Longacres Mile winner Snipledo, El Conejo Handicap winner Areyoutalkintome, San Gorgonio Handicap winner Invited Guest, American Derby winner Mananan McLir, Morvich Handicap winner Geronimo, Arlington-Washington Futurity winner Publication, All American Handicap winner Mister Fire Eyes, and Elkhorn Stakes winner Marvin’s Faith.

Then there are the Thoroughbreds who were bred with hope and born to run, but never managed to register more than a blip on the racing radar – better known as most Thoroughbreds. If you recognize the names of Cascade County, My Lady Love, Starstone, Dr. Glitter, Fire Lookout, Big Picture, or Royal Hostess, give yourself a pat on the back. They are among the vast majority of horses who came to Tranquility without much of a portfolio, and usually no sponsorship.

Clark and her colleagues in the aftercare world long ago came to terms with the fact that human nature falls short when it comes to what becomes of the Thoroughbred racehorse. Commercial breeders see their product as a commodity with all sales are final – forever. Those who play the claiming game intercept horses for a narrow window of time, and once a horse is gone from their inventory he’s the next guy’s problem, and the next guy, until he gets to the last guy, who never makes enough on the deal to provide for care after a tendon finally gives way.

The robust version of Tranquility Farm was able to last this long because of its primary patron, owner-breeder Gary Biszantz – who lent his father’s name to Tranquility’s full title, the Harry A. Biszantz Memorial Center for Thoroughbred Retirement – and the like-minded John Amerman, who came along to help with the expansion of its mission.

But even with people like Biszantz and Amerman and a first-class facility like Tranquility Farm, it was always a challenge to fund the increasing population of racehorses abandoned or rescued from slaughter. If the industry is serious about the issue, money for support of retirement and retraining facilities must come from purses, from pari-mutuel takeout, from sales company receipts, from ADW companies – from every viable institution that has somehow been able to monetize the physical sacrifice of the Thoroughbred.

Baby steps in that direction have been taken. CARMA, a spin-off of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, raises funds – some from purse money – and distributes them to accredited retirement facilities, while the newer Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance intends to spread the CARMA model industrywide.

After dedicating a significant portion of her life to a cause that at times seemed, by turns, both impossible and ignored, Clark is passing the baton – or at least picking up a smaller one.

Of the approximately 50 horses still at Tranquility, Clark will take 20 with her to the new property. They have continuing sponsorship. There is a place for 10 of the younger retirees at the Tehachapi farm, boarding there with its new owner, a veterinarian, but only if they get the support they need from the racing industry, while the rest will require homes and ongoing funds. These are the challenges occupying most of Clark’s time right now.

In a message to her board of directors (on which this reporter has served), Clark lingered over a list of more than 300 lucky horses whose fate ended up in Tranquility’s lap.

“It is bittersweet to move on and somewhat disengage from the struggle,” Clark noted, “but it has been apparent for quite some time that California owners are never going to support a retirement effort on the scale of Tranquility Farm. At least we can all sleep at night knowing we have given so many wonderful horses years of good life they were never going to have, and in many cases secure homes forever.”

Those 20 horses who will journey with Clark to Shasta County will lead a life to be envied. She should be proud of what she has accomplished, and of the consciousness she has helped to raise. All that is fine, but it won’t stop her from waking up nights wondering what is going to happen to the horses who no longer have a refuge like they did at the old Tranquility Farm.