After the Finish Line fundraisers help give former racehorses a second chance


By Kelley Carlson

The grass is not always greener for thoroughbred racehorses after their career on the track is over.

Nonprofit organization After the Finish Line aims to change that.

The Toluca Lake-based group — composed entirely of volunteers — is dedicated to saving, rehabilitating and retraining former racehorses for a second career off the track. It contributes funds to rescue and retirement organizations throughout the country to protect these horses from slaughter and neglect, and holds about 15 fundraisers a year, with several in Del Mar.

According to Dawn Mellen, founder and president of After the Finish Line, the group raised $130,000 in 2011, helping more than 300 horses through 70 rescue organizations.

“After the Finish Line hosts many fundraisers during the Del Mar race meet to raise awareness for horses,” said Mellen, who has a residence in Rancho Santa Fe. “People may not be aware of the afterlife of these racehorses. In their mind, (the horses retire to) nice, green pastures... Not all horses do. We’re here to help, here to give them a second chance and give them opportunities.”

This summer, the organization has four events scheduled locally.

‘A Tribute to the Majesty of Thoroughbreds’

After the Finish Line’s biggest fundraiser of the year, “A Tribute to the Majesty of Thoroughbreds,” is slated to run from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. July 26 at the Hilton San Diego/Del Mar, 15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar. There will be a reception with hors d’oeuvres, entertainment and a full-course dinner.

In addition, there will be silent and live auctions. Mellen said there will be more than 100 silent auction items, from racing memorabilia to spa products, surfboards, restaurant gift certificates and equestrian items. Live auction items include a ride in a blimp, artwork by renowned equine artist Fred Stone, and a week’s stay at a luxury cabin at a lodge.

This year’s master of ceremonies is Dan Cohen, KFMB morning news anchor. Guest speakers will be Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr., and Laffit Pincay III, NBC Sports and HRTV host.

Tickets cost $135; people are encouraged to RSVP by the “soft deadline” of July 16, but are still welcome to buy tickets after that date.

Those who come to the event “are making a difference and standing up for the welfare of horses,” Mellen said.

She noted that After the Finish Line raised $60,000 last year from the “Tribute”— nearly half of the annual total.

Volunteers are still needed to help with preparations the week before the event, assisting with final details, setting up on the day of the celebration, and the “Tribute” itself.

“It will be a lot of fun — it’s all about the horses,” Mellen said.

Charity of the month at En Fuego Cantina & Grill

En Fuego Cantina & Grill’s August charity of the month is After the Finish Line.

The nonprofit worked with a bartender to specially create a Finish Line Margarita, and the restaurant will donate $1 to the organization for every one of those drinks that are sold.

Also, After the Finish Line will take over the restaurant for a party titled “A Fiesta for the Horses” from 6 p.m. to midnight Aug. 8. During this time, 10 percent of all restaurant sales will be donated to the group.

“What you eat is what you spend,” Mellen said. “It’s going out to dinner, but dinner with a cause.”

She added that they are working on securing a guest bartender for the evening, possibly a jockey.

En Fuego is at 1342 Camino del Mar in Del Mar.

After the Finish Line Thoroughbred Series horse show

Off the Track Thoroughbreds, or OTTBs, will compete for $1,000 in prize money in the After the Finish Line Thoroughbred Series at the Del Sol Classic Horse Show. The event is scheduled for Aug. 15 and 16 at the Del Mar Horsepark, at the corner of Via de la Valle and El Camino Real.

These hunters and jumpers are examples of former racehorses who have been retrained for another career. Mellen said many OTTBs also achieve success in polo, therapy, trail, dressage or even just as companions.

After the Finish Line, which provides the prize money, will have a table at the show to supply information about the organization.

For more details about the free event, go to


Join After the Finish Line for its second annual Pacificfest party on Aug. 25, the night before the Del Mar racetrack’s signature race, the $1 million Pacific Classic.

Set from 6:30 to 10 p.m., at the Law Offices of Bing I. Bush Jr., 1330 Camino del Mar in Del Mar, guests can dance to a live band and eat Mexican food. They are asked to bring their favorite wine or Mexican beer.

A silent auction will be held, as well. Last year, racing and equestrian paraphernalia, wine and restaurant certificates were among the items up for bid.

There is a recommended minimum tax-deductible donation of $10 to After the Finish Line, and funds will specifically go to thoroughbred rescue organizations in California.

Last year’s Pacificfest netted more than $5,000.

“Even with a down economy, our donations have increased year after year,” Mellen said. “We have become more well-known throughout the United States, and the support has been wonderful.”

Everyone is welcome

All of the events are open to the public. For additional information or to buy tickets for the fundraisers, or to sponsor, donate auction items or volunteer, contact Mellen at or (858) 945-1371. To learn more about After the Finish Line, go to or