Updated on 09/16/2011 9:27AM

Let racing's charity begin at home


ARCADIA, Calif. - Benjamin Disraeli, no doubt counting his supporters in Parliament, liked to differentiate among "lies, damn lies, and statistics."

Obviously, he was on the mailing list of the California Horse Racing Board's quarterly newsletter.

The current issue of "CHRB News & Review" is filled to the brim with statistics. California horseplayers who stumble upon these numbers might be surprised. Whether they know it or not, a small portion of their hard-earned and wisely spent gambling dollars is going to an array of charitable causes that have nothing at all to do with horse racing.

On specifically designated charity days, sprinkled throughout the racing year, all on-track pari-mutuel proceeds above and beyond that days' operating costs are earmarked for a track's charity fund. In 2001, according to the CHRB, the amount came to $949,857.

In recent years, the racing commission has urged racetracks to skew their contributions more toward racing-related causes. This is a good thing, since the money, after all, was generated primarily by the resources and abilities of horses, owners, breeders, trainers, and jockeys who live and work in California.

Still, the operators of Bay Meadows wrote checks last year to the Blind Babies Foundation, Coyote Point Museum, Skyline College, and the Redwood City Police Activities League.

Hollywood Park's charitable outreach during 2001 touched such organizations as Actors and Others for Animals, Meals on Wheels, the Pet Orphans Fund, and the Los Angeles NAACP.

The Oak Tree Racing Association, currently conducting its meet at Santa Anita, last year donated charity funds to the Canine Companions of Oceanside, I Have a Dream Foundation of Los Angeles, and the Pasadena Mental Health Association, among many others.

The lists are similar for the Los Angeles Turf Club (Santa Anita), the Pacific Racing Association (Golden Gate), and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Even with the tacit mandate from the racing board to shift priorities, charities outside the racing world continue to benefit from money raised by racing's players and performers. And what kind of Scrooge would dare argue with a couple thousand dollars going to Guide Dogs for the Blind?

I would. And so would the solid citizens who operate the many charitable organizations serving the sport.

There are very few safety nets in horse racing. Trainers have meager pension funds. Backstretch workers are usually desperate for basic health care. Jockeys are in a constant battle for insurance coverage. And as for retired horses - don't ask. Organizations caring for the retirement and rehabilitation of unwanted racehorses are usually operating hand to mouth, if they are lucky.

The CHRB was proud to point out that about 65 percent of the 2001 charity funds were donated to racing charities. Fine, but that left about $350,000 leaving the racing industry, some of it to causes of dubious worth to the welfare of the racing industry, even at the most tenuous connection.

For instance, Hollywood, Santa Anita, Bay Meadows, and Golden Gate combined to give $15,100 to the California Council on Problem Gambling.

This is like the beer ads that call for responsible drinking.

The Mid-Peninsula Boys and Girls Club got $10,000 from Bay Meadows. Fine, but the Don MacBeth Fund got nothing. Santa Anita's neighbor, the Holy Angels Church and School, received $20,000, while the UC Davis Center for Equine Health got $7,000. And while Hollywood Park gave the California Thoroughbred Horsemen's Foundation $31,000, the track also donated $10,000 to the International Life Services, an L.A.-based anti-abortion, pregnancy counseling program.

Rick Baedeker, president of Hollywood Park, insists that a racetrack must maintain good relations with its surrounding community, and charitable donations can be a noble means to that end.

"We've been here for 60 years," Baedeker said. "We're the biggest employer in town. We have a responsibility. I think charitable dollars spent in Inglewood are meaningful dollars. As choices are made, those are the last that will be dropped, as far as I'm concerned."

Right now, Hollywood Park is running about 50-50 between racing charities and outside charities. Santa Anita's rate to racing interests is upwards of 70 percent, while Del Mar is on a similar pace. Oak Tree, according to the CHRB figures, comes in at 54 percent for racing charities out of the $97,000 donated in 2001.

Nothing could be more misleading.

"That $97,000 is a small portion of our total giving, only reflecting those charity days," said Sherwood Chillingworth, Oak Tree's executive vice president. "We also have the Oak Tree Charitable Foundation, as well as an endowment.

"From those sources, over the past 10 years, Oak Tree has given $5 million in charitable donations," Chillingworth went on. "That's $500,000 a year, and 76 percent of that has gone to horse-related activities."

No other racing association in California can approach that figure, but no other association is set up like Oak Tree, with its charitable mandate embedded in its original charter 33 years ago. And while the rest of the industry wrestles with its charitable responsibilities to the sport and its participants, at least every day is a charity day during the Oak Tree season.