Updated on 05/14/2012 2:28PM

Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation asks court to dismiss New York lawsuit


The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s directors responded Monday to the New York attorney general’s lawsuit against them with a court filing that calls for the suit’s dismissal.

New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman filed suit May 3 in the New York State Supreme Court to remove the TRF board, alleging the group had “ruined” the finances of the nation’s largest charity for ex-racehorses and endangered horses in its care by allowing them to become neglected. The TRF is headquartered in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

TRF officials have vigorously denied the suit’s allegations, and in a Monday court filing called the attorney general’s case “meritless” and said it “does not begin to approach the legal standard required to overcome the business judgment rule that protects directors and officers of charitable organizations from liability of any kind. Rather, this law suit is a shocking case of misguided regulators knowingly and intentionally making false allegations that would constitute actionable libel if the allegations were not contained in a complaint.”

The court filings, made by TRF attorney and New York Thoroughbred Breeders president Barry Ostrager, claim that the TRF provided the attorney general’s Charities Bureau with evidence including affirmations and affidavits from veterinarians attesting to the proper care and health of about 1,100 horses in the charity’s care, as well as written opinions by lawyers attesting to the legal propriety of the financial transactions referred to in the attorney general’s complaint. in addition to ignoring these, the TRF’s motion alleges, the attorney general “has recklessly compromise[d] long scheduled and imminent major TRF fundraising initiatives, of which the attorney general was aware before the filing of the complaint” and “has not and cannot allege a single act of self-dealing by any TRF director or officer.”

The attorney general’s office responded with a statement to the Albany Times-Union’s "Capitol Confidential" blog, saying that since filing its suit, it has "received additional complaints about TRF’s failure to properly execute its mission of caring for retired racehorses. We are confident that the courts will reject this desperate attempt by TRF’s board to gloss over the failures that have plagued the organization and give new leadership an opportunity to bring reform."

The May 3 lawsuit names as defendants the TRF Inc.; its chairman, John C. Moore; president Mike Lakow; director of external affairs Diana Pikulski; board members Hayward R. Pressman, Rob Hinkle, Leslie Priggen, and Margaret Santulli; and former board member John S. Rainey.

In his complaint, Schneiderman accuses the TRF of driving the organization into insolvency by accepting more horses than its resources could cover, resulting in the horses’ neglect. He also alleged that “the board has engaged in a series of financially irresponsible transactions, borrowing to pay off existing debt and invading TRF’s restricted endowment fund, that have damaged further TRF’s ability to fulfill its charitable purpose of protecting Thoroughbreds from neglect and mistreatment.”

In its own filing Monday, the TRF fired back, saying it has “substantially reduced” the size of its herd and sought partnerships that it hopes will provide long-term care solutions, including one with Colorado ranch owner Tom McKenna, who the filing says has offered to relocate as many as 500 of the TRF herd to his 60,000-acre Cucharas Ranch. the TRF claims that partnership “would yield substantial savings for the TRF over time while maintaining excellent levels of care for every horse relocated.”

The TRF filing included 24 statements from veterinarians attesting to herd health at the TRF’s 25 satellite facilities and an affidavit from Jockey Club president James Gagliano. The affidavit reveals the Jockey Club gave a total of $450,000 to TRF from 2009-2011 based on the conditions that the charity stop accepting new horses in its private herd (those not in TRF’s prison programs), supply the Jockey Club with regular financial and herd size reports, and board meeting minutes.

Schneiderman’s lawsuit followed a March 2011 New York Times report that alleged that many of the horses in TRF’s care but located at satellite facilities were in need of urgent care or were neglected or starving. The TRF blamed the report on fallout from a feud between the board and the fund’s largest benefactor, executors for the Paul Mellon Estate. Later in 2011, the TRF sued the Mellon executors for slander. That dispute stems from a disagreement over the use of Mellon fund annual disbursements as collateral to secure a loan from a South Carolina bank.