Tuesday, June 08, 1999

A savior for Charismatic's horsey cousins

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At first, you couldn't see what was going on. The television camera caught jockey Chris Antley wallowing in the dust at the finish line at Belmont Park. An inglorious spill? He struggled awkwardly to his feet, still clutching the horse's reins. Then he cupped the big colt's left front foot in his hand.

        Charismatic's rider, as it turns out, was making an entirely glorious rescue.

        Doctors say Chris Antley probably saved the chestnut thoroughbred's life on Saturday, preventing the horse from putting weight on the shattered bones in his leg. As the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness was loaded onto an ambulance, cameras again zoomed in on his rider. Close enough to record the tears streaking his dusty face.

Furiously competitive
        Critics say trainer D. Wayne Lukas pushes his horses too hard. It happens. And not just to horses. Some furiously competitive soccer daddies forget the combatants are 9-year-old girls. And some gymnastics coaches demand punishing feats, performed on delicate knees and still-growing tiny ankles.

        Human athletes can be patched up and go on to to other things, choose another line of work. Dot Morgan offers the same chance to racehorses.

        Director of the Ohio Harness Horsemen's Association and a successful trainer, she runs a rescue program. Charismatic, of course, won't need her services. He is in a cast, four screws embedded in his very valuable left front leg. If things go well, his life will be an endless round of lush grass, classy lodging and ready mares.

        But most retired racehorses aren't so lucky. A lot of them have injuries that will take a while — an expensive while — to heal. Some are gelded. Others just don't know how to do anything but run around a track. Many are sold for slaughter.

Standing in the gap
        Dot Morgan's files, she says, are full of people who want horses. “The hearts of people out there are big,” she says. “I am just standing in the gap for horses until we can match them up.”

        She retrains them, then puts them up for adoption. An equine specialist who graduated from the University of Kentucky, Dot thinks of it as simply teaching the horse a new skill, “like sending a kid to vocational school.” In fact, it's called New Vocations Racehorse Adoption, one of only three such national programs.

        During the past seven years, more than 300 horses have been shipped for rest and rehabilitation to Dot at her farm just northwest of Dayton, Ohio. This year, she expects to rescue between 70 and 80 horses, both thoroughbreds and trotters.

        Her wish list includes a laptop computer, digital camera and video camera to show off the mounts available for adoption. It's nonprofit, and some donations are tax deductible. More information is available at www.horseadoption.com or by calling (937) 947-4020.

        A suitably complicated adoption procedure includes a two-year follow-up. Average fee is $700 to cover Dot's big expenses — shipping and feed. Not to mention farrier and vet bills and a horsey subsidy. She waives the adoption fee for “pasture ornaments,” animals that will never be fit to ride. So, “the more useful horses have to pick up the slack.”

        Some owners and trainers see these beautiful animals as trophies. Or as a big four-legged chunk of cash. Or as an indisputable symbol of wealth and status. You can buy a fake Rolex, but racing horses take real money. The sport of kings.

        “But I also know owners who live in a tack room because that's all they can afford,” she say. “Then something happens to their horse and instead of getting the $500 or $600 they could get from a trader, they'll give the horse to me, ask me to find it a good home.”

        So if you think Chris Antley was crying because he just lost the Triple Crown, then you don't know very much about horses.

        Or the people who rescue them.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com