On a recent Saturday night, Ron Charles, Santa Anita Park president and MEC chief operating officer, got an urgent e-mail plea for help from Diana Baker, a volunteer in Thoroughbred rescue efforts and former member of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's national board of directors. Baker said that a friend of hers, Caroline Betts of Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue was, at that moment, at the Euclid Stockyards horse auction, where a former racehorse, Sunday Match, was about to be sold to a buyer from a slaughterhouse. The horse, which had raced at Santa Anita and had recorded workouts as recently as two months ago at Fairplex Park, was going for $250 to $300.
According to Baker’s e-mail, the sale could take place any moment. Charles called Betts and told her to buy the horse and said he would take care of the purchase price, as well as the cost of the first couple of months of its care.
In addition to a chance to rescue this race horse from being slaughtered, Charles saw the incident as an opportunity to further unite the organizations already taking a stand to prevent the inhumane treatment of racehorses – the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA) on whose board Charles serves as a director, the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT), and the MEC racetracks, including Santa Anita. Last month, MEC announced a company-wide policy promoting the humane treatment of racehorses and instituting a zero-tolerance anti-slaughter policy. Under the policy, any trainer or owner stabling at an MEC facility who directly or indirectly participates in the transport of a horse from a MEC facility to either a slaughterhouse or an auction house engaged in selling horses for slaughter will be prohibited from having stalls at any MEC facility.
Since Saturday night, Charles has had meetings with CTT executive director, Ed Halpern, and CARMA chairperson, Madeline Auerbach.
“We want to send a message that we have implemented an anti-slaughter policy, and we intend to do everything in our power to enforce it,” said Charles. “Ed Halpern stepped right up and resolved to find out exactly how the horse got there. With his assistance, we will talk to the trainer involved and put him on notice that if any horse he was training ends up at a slaughter lot, he will never race at an MEC track again.”
“CARMA has taken the lead in the care of California’s retired racehorses, and has done it with an organization, a plan, a strategy,” Charles continued. “MEC will work with CARMA to try to prevent racehorses from suffering such a tragic end.”
According to Auerbach, CARMA is in the process of developing programs so that emergency funds will be available for unique situations like this.
“The horse Ron saved will be eligible for CARMA funding,” said Auerbach, “and when one of the farms finds a slot they can take this horse.”
“People at the highest level in racing in California are donating their time to the cause of humane treatment of our equine athletes,” said Charles. “We are becoming a leader in the protection of retired race horses.”