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Caring for the Warriors

By Don Engel
Editor, The Showcase

     For one of the few times in the history of Thoroughbred racing, a major group of owners is creating a fund that will be distributed to the caretakers of the retired horses who once carried their colors on California racetracks.
     The funds are being collected by and will be distributed by a creation of Thoroughbred Owners of California known as CARMA, an acronym for California Retirement Management Account.
     Beginning with the first race of the current Del Mar meeting, an undetermined number of owners are contributing three tenths of one percent of each purse their horses earn toward the CARMA retirement fund. The same process was to begin in Northern California with the start of the Sonoma County Fair meeting at Santa Rosa.
     (For example, at 0.03 percent, the deduction from a purse of $20,000 would be $60.)
     Participation in the program is optional. Each owner has an opportunity to decline to contribute, and at this point nobody knows how many will opt out of the program. But money is being collected by the paymaster from those who stay in, and the fund will be allowed to grow until January, when the first distribution to caretakers is scheduled to be made.
     Any retired horse that raced in California will be eligible for a subsidy.
     Aside from the transcendent problem of finding enough money to completely fund their retirement, CARMA's biggest challenge is determining the best way to allocate the funds that it does collect.
     The present plan is to determine the number of eligible retirees, divide that number into the total money available, and come up with an amount to be provided for each horse. Each horse is to receive the same amount.
     Checks will be sent to each facility housing eligible horses, the amount to be the individual payment amount multiplied by the number of eligible horses at that facility.
     The problem with that plan is that the CARMA money will go into that facility's general operating fund and won't be specifically allocated to the care of the retired racehorses. That problem can't be solved until the CARMA horses can be housed and maintained separately, and that isn't possible at present at any of the horse-rescue facilities now in operation..
     The long-term goal is for CARMA to operate its own facility, but there's no money in sight for that. It's likely to be years before there'll be enough money for CARMA to buy or lease its own facility. There may never be enough money.
     CARMA doesn't consider the present distribution plan to be permanent. It will be changed if somebody comes up with a better idea, according to Madeline Auerbach, who chairs the CARMA operation. She says that CARMA welcomes suggestions, calling the operation "a work in progress." Auerbach can be reached through CARMA's parent organization, TOC, at (800) 994-9909.
     To be eligible for those subsidies, facilities must advise CARMA of the number of California-raced retirees under their care, then submit financial statements, business plans, and other documents certifying that they are responsible operations. They also must pass inspections by CARMA representatives, both scheduled and unscheduled. They must also present evidence that their retirees actually raced in California.
     Since CARMA's limited budget will provide only a portion of the cost of maintaining those horses, the facilities housing them will still have to continue their own fund-raising efforts, always a major challenge.
     When January comes, CARMA will see how much money it has and decide how much will be available for each horse. Distributions will be made either quarterly or semi-annually.
     Although many other individuals and groups profit from the efforts of racehorses, only owners have stepped up to make an institutional financial commitment. Neither racetracks, California Thoroughbred Trainers, nor the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association have agreed to commit to helping fund CARMA.
     Individuals are encouraged to make contributions on their own by sending money to CARMA at P. O. Box 1086, Sierra Madre, CA 91024 or by telephoning (626) 574-6618. Contributions are tax-deductible.
     CARMA is making its own attempts to raise money through special events, the first of which will be held on Thursday, August 21, at the Del Mar Hilton. That event will be a poker tournament and silent auction offering, according to the CARMA flyer, "action, food and fun."
     A website, www.CARMA4horses.com, is scheduled to go online soon. It will describe CARMA and its goals and activities.
     In addition, CARMA is inaugurating a "Pocket Change for CARMA" program that will place collection boxes at racetracks with signs urging fans to drop in money to help retired runners.
     CARMA, conceived by TOC, was made possible when the California Horse Racing Board passed a rule authorizing the purse deductions on a voluntary basis. Although the rule was passed early this year, the mechanism for making the deductions couldn't be put in place until the start of the Del Mar meeting.
     Substantial opposition to the purse deductions has been voiced by owners who contend that each individual owner should be responsible for the retirement costs of his own horses and not be expected to assist in funding the retirement of other owners' runners.
     The fact that most owners don't pay for the retirement of the horses that they race doesn't appear to persuade those who make that argument.
     CARMA may indeed be a work in progress, but the importance of its existence can hardly be overestimated. After all these years, owners have finally taken responsibility for the care of the equine athletes upon whom the entire structure of Thoroughbred racing and breeding depend.

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