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Inmates Care for 'Old Claimers' in New York

October 29, 1987|BILL CHRISTINE

In Upstate New York, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation has been caring for retired horses since 1983.

The foundation's slogan is: "Old Claimers Don't Just Fade Away."

The foundation currently has 32 horses at a farm in Wallkill, N.Y., which is maintained by inmates from a state prison about a half mile away.

Monique Koehler, a New York advertising executive, started the foundation after reading about the plight of old horses in a newspaper.

While Koehler was discussing the project with a trainer at a restaurant, a stranger overheard their conversation and came over to the table with a $50 contribution.

"You've got to be kidding," Koehler said. "We're just starting."

The man reached back into his pocket. "Well, then," he said, "here's $100."

The foundation raises money through dog shows, auctions and private contributions. Secretariat's tack box brought $1,400 at a 1985 auction. A recent auction at Belmont Park netted $13,000, with the top item being one of John Henry's horseshoes, which sold for $500.

The foundation estimates that $35,000-$40,000 is needed annually to maintain the program, which is a cooperative effort with the New York State Department of Correctional Services.

One of the horses at Wallkill is Dot the T, who during a 12-year career ran in 250 races at 13 tracks in 7 states. Another of the horses is Creme de la Fete, who won 41 races in 151 starts and was claimed 14 times.

"The inmates get very emotional about caring for the horses," Koehler said. "They want to know which horse will be shipped there next. When they find out, they hand-carve the horse's name on a sign so it'll be ready by the time he gets there.

"They take pride in the individual horses they're caring for. When they get an apple for dinner, they'll pocket it and save it to give to the horse the next day."

One of the inmates, a convicted drug pusher, was released in June and now works for a New York trainer.

"When you go up there and see what's going on, you feel lucky to be a part of it," Koehler said. "Because you're not only helping the animals, you're helping your fellow human beings (inmates)."

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