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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.
Respectfully - LET US NOT PAUSE in our rending of the absolute TRAVESTY of the closing of Hollywood Park - but let us also consider the plight of rescue organizations (one has NOTHING to do with the other, sir) We as an industry must recognize from breeding to running to winning to losing - the thrills - the defeats - that the horses are the base of everything - owners pay to nominate to the triple crown - to the Breeders Cup = let a portion of that money go to the retirement facilities = OR to registered - a 5.00 fee to these organizations - how far that would go to fund tha retirement of the horses that are the basis of our sport
People like to point fingers to deflect off of themselves. The big name breeders point to the "backyard" breeder. But it is the false image of racing and breeding as an ROYAL sport with classy people. There are a handful of truly classy people in racing. The rest are all in it for the EGO TRIP at the expense and suffering of these incredible, INNOCENT beings. As an owner of 15 thoroughbreds (7 of them rescued), I have been thoroughly disgusted by the big name breeders and owners who can't even pay what it really costs to care for their DISCARDS, even when the discards are 30 years old, who had 15 foals and a trust fund to care for them. But these type of people sure know where the winners circle (for yet another picture on their ego walls) as well as how to get to the awards dinners and Derby's, etc. California should REQUIRE a license to breed and a BOND paid as part of the breeding fee, to see to it NO Thoroughbred ever ends up at slaughter or abused or neglected because it didn't feed the egos for which it was bred.
Our organization has been advocating for mandatory substantial perpetual funding for racehorse retirement, rehabilitation and long term sanctuary care for 10 years. The industry must come together as a whole and provide the perpetual funding that is needed to help the number of horses that need help each year. Not every horse is going to go into a second career. Sanctuary horses deserve to be taken care of as well, maybe even more so as they are the most vulnerable. How many times do we have to have this conversation? How many good organizations like Tranquility Farm have to downsize or go out of business before the industry does the right thing? The purses are bigger than they have ever been yet why are the horses still not receiving their fair share for their welfare when they can no longer race?
Often when I go to the super market I'm asked if I would like to make a contribution to a charitable cause and when I say yes it is processed as part of the checkout. Why not provide this option for the betting public when they are cashing their tickets? Even a dollar would help and on days when one cashes larger tickets a bettor could donate even more. It would also help if the tracks installed software that could produce a tax deductible contribution auto tote size ticket for bettors to use when they fill out their tax forms should they desire.
We have seen this situation with other rescues over the years. This is because rescues that take in horses and are set up to adopt them out later end up with horses that are unadoptable... that then unfortunately they become a huge liability to those rescues. That is exactly what has happened here . Now many horses that would have been helped will not be in the future I have known some rescues that had to make the hard hard decision to euthanize some unadoptable horses just to stay in operation. It is not fair but a reality if you want to continue to save lives.
Start with getting some funds coming from fees mandated via the yearling sales; get people thinking about the end from the very beginning! Then add small fees from racing itself that some of the better ideas folks here have posted. But another problem is figuring out a way to keep horses sound on the track and then get them retired while they are still sound enough to rehab instead of running them too long. There is a huge market out there for decent riding horses, but new owners can't deal with headcases and huge medical problems. Not sure how to get it to pencil out, but somehow that gap between the track and the pleasure horse owner must be bridged.
I'm sorry to see Tranquility Farm move to NoCal. I know it's a monumental job, managing that many horses, but the TF blog hasn't had an entry since April of this year and if people don't hear about horses available (with histories and vet records), how can they go see them for possible adoption? The whole OTTB rescue business plan needs to follow the models set by New Vocations, CANTER, and ReRun, to name but three. Finger Lakes and the Purple Haze center is another. No criticism of TF, but I think a lot of opportunities fell through the cracks (as did a lot of wonderful horses) because there wasn't a concerted effort to get and KEEP the name out there. Knowledge is power, but if people don't KNOW ...
HOW BIG OF A FARM IS IT GOING TO TAKE TO SUPPORT ALL THE RETIRED RACE HORSES IN THIS OLD WORLD? ? ? A VERY BIG ONE ! ! ! IN ADDITION TO ALL THE OLD GELDINGS, YOU HAVE TO CONSIDER THE OLD UNCUT HORSES AND MARES, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH THEM? ? ? BECAUSE THEY WILL REPRODUCE IF LEFT TOGETHER. I HAVE A PLAN THAT WOULD HELP SOLVE ALL OF THESE PROBLEMS, BUT I CAN'T FIND THE RIGHT PERSON OR ENTITY TO CHAMPION IT!!!!!!!!! IT SOUNDS CRAZY, THAT SOMEONE, A PERSON WHO IS A BIT PLAYER IN THE INDUSTRY, COULD HAVE THE ANSWER TO MOST OF THE INDUSTRY PROBLEMS. THE KEY TO THIS PLAN, IS THAT IT NEEDS FULL INDUSTRY PARTICIPATION. IT REQUIRES HARD NOSED DECISIONS FROM INDUSTRY LEADERS TO IMPLEMENT. IT NEEDS A NAME BEHIND IT TO OPEN DOORS THAT SOMEONE LIKE ME CAN'T. I AM NOT NORMALLY THOUGHT OF AS A NUTCASE, BUT I'VE FOSTERED THIS PROGRAM IN MY MIND FOR 10 + YEARS, AND WITH FULL COOPERATION, IT WILL RETURN THIS INDUSTRY TO A MUCH MORE POINT OF RELEVANCE. I NEED SOMEONE WITH THE STAR POWER IN THE INDUSTRY TO HEAR THE PROGRAM AND HAVE THE FORESIGHT TO SEE THE POSSIBILITIES. firstname.lastname@example.org
One plan not mentioned is that if you geld a horse you should have to pay a 2k-3k fee that goes to thorobred retirement. If you geld a horse you know at some point they will wind up at one of these facilities. Also, its time for Keeneland to step up. They sell over 3,000 yearlings per year. If a very small % of their gross receipts went towards retirement homes there wouldn't be a problem.
How about the DRF pays a little bit to help these thoroughbreds out. I believe DRF directly benefits from the horses by monetizing off of the sport. I suppose the owners should support this effort solely when 85% of Thoroughbred owners are losing money already??