Retired racehorse charity wants NY suit dismissed

A charity that takes care of more than 1,000 retired racehorses told a court Monday that its herd is doing well, its finances are sound and that a lawsuit by New York's attorney general should be dismissed.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation filed court papers that included statements from veterinarians and managers at the 25 farms around the U.S. that board its horses, saying the animals are healthy. It also said its audited financial statement shows total net assets of almost $7.8 million at the end of 2010.

The money consists mainly of a restricted endowment from the late philanthropist and racehorse breeder Paul Mellon. The charity said it has raised about $40 million in donations over nearly 30 years to save thousands of unwanted thoroughbreds from neglect and slaughter.

"There has never been a case in which directors and officers of a charitable foundation have been removed absent either misappropriation of charitable funds or self-dealing," attorney Barry Ostrager wrote. He said the case "does not begin to approach the legal standard required" for the removal of directors and officers of charitable organizations.

"The complaint should be dismissed and an inquiry conducted as to how such a monumental misallocation of governmental resources has been permitted to move forward into the courts of this state," he wrote.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed the lawsuit two weeks ago in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, asking the court to replace the directors of the Saratoga Springs-based foundation.

The lawsuit said the directors had made financially irresponsible decisions, including borrowing to pay debts, paying less than standard boarding rates and paying suppliers and veterinarians late. The attorney general's office also requested a court-ordered inspection of the herd, saying earlier visits showed some horses underfed, suffering and needing veterinary care.

"Since the filing of our lawsuit, the attorney general has received additional complaints about TRF's failure to properly execute its mission of caring for retired racehorses," Schneiderman spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said Monday. "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 foundation said it has reduced its herd to about 1,030 horses and found ways to maintain care and cut costs because of reduced contributions, "a circumstance confronting virtually all charitable organizations in recent years." Meanwhile, a Colorado ranch owner and thoroughbred breeder has offered to relocate as many as 500 of the horses to his 60,000-acre ranch, it said.

Foundation chairman John Moore has said the group can solve only a small part of the problem; 23,000 thoroughbreds are born annually, and many of them won't make it as racehorses even as others retire.

In its lawsuit, the attorney general's office said the average lifespan of a horse is 25 to 30 years, and most thoroughbreds retire from racing at age 6 or 7, some with injuries that impair their health. The cost of aftercare is prohibitive for many owners.

"In recent decades, the racing industry has struggled to ensure that thoroughbreds receive proper care once their racing days are over," the lawsuit said.