Updated on 05/04/2012 2:47PM

Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation sued by New York State


New York State's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, filed suit Thursday against the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, the nation's largest non-profit retirement group for Thoroughbred racehorses, alleging that the group's board "put horses in danger and [TRF] finances in ruin."

The retirement foundation's chairman, John C. Moore, said Thursday afternoon that he had not seen the complaint but denied its allegations as reported by news outlets.

"It's a hell of a shame," Moore said. "We've been working with this attorney general, trying to educate him about the truth concerning the TRF for the last 13 months, and that he would resort to bringing this action, which is based on so many lies and inaccuracies, it just shocks me. It's a waste of taxpayers' money, and it's only going to hurt the horses."

Moore is named as a defendant in the suit, as are Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Inc.; the foundation's president, Mike Lakow; the group's co-founder, secretary, and director of external affairs, Diana Pikulski; current board members Hayward R. Pressman, Rob Hinkle, Leslie Priggen, and Margaret "Peggy" Santulli, and former board member John S. Rainey.

Barry Ostrager, senior litigation partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and the current president of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders, is representing the retirement foundation. In January, the board of the breeders’ group voted to donate $10,000 to the retirement foundation.

The New York attorney general's suit seeks the foundation board's removal and a judgment that all defendants be barred from reelection to the board. In addition, it seeks to enjoin the foundation from accepting new horses without court approval and calls for a temporary receiver for the foundation pending the board's reconstitution. The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation currently cares for about 1,100 horses at 30 facilities, Moore said.

The suit accuses the Saratoga Springs-based not-for-profit and its board  of "failing to properly oversee and manage the organization's finances in light of TRF's unique responsibility for the welfare of more than 1,100 retired Thoroughbred racehorses," according to the complaint. "By accepting more Thoroughbreds than TRF could afford to support and failing to provide adequate funding to its boarding facilities, TRF's directors drove the organization into insolvency and caused the neglect, suffering, and even death of horses in its herd. Over the past year, 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."

The complaint alleges that the retirement foundation paid satellite boarding facilities inadequately and also failed to oversee those facilities, leading to what the complaint termed a spike in horse deaths after 2006. According to the complaint, there were 45 deaths in the foundation herd between 2004 and 2006, but more than 315 horses died between 2007 and 2011, with "nearly 100" dying in 2010.

"Many TRF horses do not receive adequate feed to supplement pasture grazing, particularly in the winter months, and much of the herd does not receive required maintenance care, such as tooth filing and hoof trimming, when needed," the complaint said. "Horses have been deprived of proper treatment for injuries and medical conditions and turned out without adequate shelter. At some TRF facilities, TRF horses have suffered severe malnourishment, prolonged and unnecessary pain, and death from starvation and exposure."

Moore, the foundation's chairman, disputed those allegations. "The health of the herd is absolutely fine," he said. "I have veterinarian reports from every farm, and I don't know of any horses that are in danger. I don't know of any horses that are not in good condition. If there are horses that are not in good condition, they're being cared for and being given supplemental feed, and they're generally 25 or 30 years old."

Moore said attorney general Schneiderman sent out an unannounced inspector to Wallkill Farm in New York about two months ago to look at foundation horses stabled there. "They recommended immediate care for them," Moore said. "One needed his feet trimmed, the other needed dental care. They were 29 and 32 years old. He has no idea that that's like 110 years old for a human being. One of them was a little thin. He's looking for things, but he's found nothing."

The court filing comes 14 months after a New York Times report alleged that many of the horses in the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's care but located at satellite facilities were in need of urgent care or were neglected or starving. That report cited inspections by an independent veterinarian, Dr. Stacey Huntington, whose report for 857 horses was completed the following month. Contacted by the Daily Racing Form about a month after the Times story, Huntington characterized the problems she found as "not widespread. Some problems, but not widespread. Some things that just need to be taken care of."

The May 3 complaint says more than 10 percent of the horses examined by Huntington had Henneke body scores below 4, a rating that commonly-used body-scoring system classes as "moderately thin."

The retirement foundation stopped cooperating with Huntington after the Times report appeared on March 19, 2011. In 2011, the foundation sued its largest benefactor, executors for the Mellon Estate, for slander, alleging that the executors "engaged in a campaign of vilification." 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.

The retirement foundation has acknowledged difficulty in fund-raising, citing lack of Thoroughbred industry support, a large herd, and fund-raising slowdowns during the recession.

"We'll beat it," because we have the facts on our side," Moore said of the attorney general's suit. "The herd is fine, we have done nothing as a board to justify criticism, other than not raising enough money."

Diane Obusek More than 1 year ago
As I'm reading this article and the posts, I'm writing a graduate paper on Thoroughbred retirement for Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, the animal behaviorist who helped with the rehabilitation of the Michael Vick dogs. I've loved Thoroughbred Racing all my life. I worked at Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga and went to Cornell for Animal Science, so I've seen racing from many different perspectives. I totally agree with Mary's comments. Without the Thoroughbreds, there would be no racing. We need to establish a consistent monetary fund to make certain that all race horses have a safe home when they retire. God bless individuals like Old Friends' Michael Blowen and all the others who dedicate their lives to Thoroughbred retirement efforts. The New York Times articles may have been filled with inaccuracies, but the public can't tell the difference. There are wonderful, hard-working people on the backstretch, but no one will ever hear their stories as long as issues like equine slaughter and irresponsible owners make the headlines. Racing Fans, we are better than this. When we start to make the care of Thoroughbreds, both on and off the track a priority, then the public might understand why we love this sport.
karen carey More than 1 year ago
People need to see the truth in all of this. This is nothing more than political posturing with the Government trying to gain control of the racing industries casino interest. There is no care whatsoever for the horses in this. It is all led by Coumo who wants to gain control over the casinos. Shame on the politicians The people of the State should investigate them! The horses will suffer from this!!!
peter k More than 1 year ago
Do not know all the facts either ,yet this is another attempt of government control. Welcome to Cuba ,Venezuela , Iran, China and etcetera . If you want to be told what to do,buy , eat,think, believe in then these current tactics are for you The bureaucrats are so afraid of independent charitable organizations and businesses , that , in order to look like they are doing something they attack It is really a shame what is going on in the greatest country in the world The United States of America
Mary Adkins-Matthews More than 1 year ago
If the industry wants to do the right thing.. they would attach a fee to the horse from the start.. not have us horse advocates out begging for help and money for these horses simply because we love them. It is a FAILURE of the breeding and racing industry all together. There is NO PLAN in place to protect the athletes of this sport. They thought the TRF would do that but as you can see, it was a joke and a large waste of money and donations that never made it to the poor horses . At this point the TRF needs to be controlled by the court and the remaining horses be taken care of properly. This is NOT retirement
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Mr Paul Mellon of Rokeby Stable AND Mellon Bank had set up a trust to care for retired racehorses... It seems that individuals in business or perhaps family want money for themselves from the fund set up by Mr Mellon before his death. Looks like they set their legal dogs loose. I don't know if the States Attorney General is elected or appointed in the State of New York but politics rears it's ugly head again. Just a quick note to Robert below... It seems that the horses would be better off without those trying to usurp the monies from Mr Mellon's bequest. The lawyers get fat claiming that the horses starve...
Robert Smith More than 1 year ago
It seems that the horses would be better off without those trying to usurp the monies from Mr Mellon's bequest Yea thats something i didnt know about this. If this is absolutely true , then they are hurting the animals themselves. Thanks for the info
Robert Smith More than 1 year ago
I dont know all the facts on this yet. Its seems like they are building a case with "flimsy" evidence. I really wonder if these horses would of been better off without the TRF? These magnificent animals race for our entertainment , at least someone should champion for their humane retirement. Unfortunately theres not enough of this going around. Some people in this biz are only interested in how much money this horse can make me now and who care what happens after that. Plenty of responsibility to go around here. MRM i think you hit the nail on the head. Just wondering when the AT will will go after the NY government for the same accusations.
mrm More than 1 year ago
Just another building block in the case the State is trying to make against horse racing.They will keep up the pressure untill they are able to cut the tracks out of the casino revenue. Thats the pupose of this witch hunt and not the welfare of the horse. Alot of casino money goes to politicians and if ultimatlely thay want racing out of their pockets then that is what will eventually happen.
Trina Raucher More than 1 year ago
The pictures I saw in the New York Times were of crippled, thin, horses turned out in the heat. These horses were raised in stalls with nearly round the clock attention. The notion that when they are done racing the can be "put out to pasture" is completely ignorant. The Association of Equine Practitioners all said that the alternative to processing horses for human consumption was a worse fate than being destroyed was accurate. But what do they know? They only see this kind of neglect and abuse everyday on "retirement farms" and "non-profit" facilities everyday in their practice. These people running this foundation are no more in touch with reality than the activists that turn dogs loose at the shows so they can go to their "natural habitat", which must be a highway because that's where they run to. Where is the difference?
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
And are you a volunteer? It don't take much to knock off a foot or muck a stall but it IS a long ride from the upper west side ain't it? You saw pic-tures... go back to your next PETA meeting and turn my name in.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Screw the courts... AND the lawyers fees and take care of the animals!!! Where's the f'n problem, once again, politics and greed. Paul Mellon would s-can everyone involved! Mr. Moore, if you need a volunteer by God, I'll drive up from North Carolina to help care for these horses. NeeeW Yawkers!