BY KELLEY CARLSON
After a long period of neglect, everything is finally coming up roses for a former Kentucky Derby runner, thanks to the help of a local nonprofit equine foundation.
Alyrob was primarily a California-based racehorse, who finished eighth in the 1996 edition of the “Run for the Roses” in Louisville, Ky. Following his retirement from the track, he was retrained as a hunter/jumper and competed as a show horse. However, Alyrob’s legs couldn’t handle the high-impact activity, and subsequently he was retired from that sport.
Eventually, Alyrob’s owner asked Project Spirit Horse Rescue in Oregon to board the horse on its property, and agreed to send monthly payments to cover expenses for dental, boarding, feed and the farrier. When Alyrob arrived at the organization’s property, he was thin, had bad teeth and feet, and was stressed and full of fight. The owner’s payments to the rescue were irregular, and then stopped altogether. Consequently, the founders of Project Spirit shouldered the bill for Alyrob’s expenses, using their personal funds, since the former racehorse was a resident of the property and not officially a part of the rescue program.
To keep Alyrob at the rescue, Project Spirit contacted local authorities and had him deemed abandoned by his owner. Then to further help pay for his expenses, the nonprofit sought assistance from After the Finish Line.
Once Alyrob began to get the care he needed, his attitude changed, said Dawn Mellen, president of After the Finish Line.
“He blossomed as a horse again,” she said. “He’s an alpha gelding, just loving life.”
“Alyrob has changed from the thin, fiery beast who came here four years ago,” said Nadine Hoy, founder of Project Spirit. “He is a part of my herd, and is one happy lad. It took four dentals to correct his awful mouth, it had been neglected (for) way too long. He is now going gray, and is aging better than we had originally hoped. It took two years to get his body in shape and to a healthy weight. He looks and acts absolutely fabulous, and we are thrilled beyond measure that we have the privilege of watching him grow old with his band of thugs, entertaining the locals of Keno (Ore.), and loving his many visitors. We send After the Finish Line a huge thank you!”
Alyrob’s case is just one example of the many brought to After the Finish Line, a Toluca Lake-based group that assists in the rehabilitation and care of former racehorses until they are adopted, saving them from slaughter and neglect.
Founded in October 2007 by Mellen, who has a home in Rancho Santa Fe, the nonprofit contributes funds to thoroughbred rescue and retirement organizations across the country. In 2012, the nonprofit signed 65 checks for a total of $102,000 to help groups in 17 states.
But the need for financial aid is clearly growing, as costs for necessities such as hay are increasing. In the first five months of this year, After the Finish Line had already awarded nearly $60,000 in grants to about 30 organizations, including: Friends of Ferdinand, United Pegasus Foundation, Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue, The Exceller Fund, Neigh Savers Foundation, The Golden Carrot, Saving Horses, Heavenly Horse Rescue, Harmony and Hope Horse Haven, Equine Encore, ReRun and CANTER Pennsylvania. On average, groups seek grants between $500 and $2,000, according to Mellen.
To assist these organizations, After the Finish Line relies on its own fundraisers and donations.
“Every year, we have grown, through the donations received and rewarded,” Mellen said.
For 2013, seven major fundraisers have been planned around the country.
The largest one is the “Tribute to the Majesty of Thoroughbreds,” held at the Hilton San Diego/Del Mar during the Del Mar racing season. The sixth annual edition is set from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 1, and it will include a reception, live and silent auctions, a pledge session, a guest speaker and dinner. And because the hotel is newly renovated, “it will feel like an entirely new event,” Mellen promised.
At least 200 items will be up for auction, including racing and equestrian items, photography, memorabilia, wine, restaurant gift cards, lodging, jewelry, artwork, sports and movie tickets, retail store gift cards, spa and salon packages, and rounds of golf.
Donations — which are tax-deductible — are still needed, and sponsorship and volunteer opportunities are available.
Last year, more than 150 people attended “A Tribute to the Majesty of Thoroughbreds,” and $77,000 was raised. This year’s monetary goal is $100,000, Mellen said.
“Save the date — everyone looks forward to the Del Mar racing season, and the community revolves around the racing meet,” she said. “Besides our enjoyment ... think about these horses, these equine athletes — they perform on the track giving us enjoyment and excitement ... let’s give a little back to the horses.”
Tickets cost $140; contact Mellen at (858) 945-1371 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other major fundraiser held locally will be “A Fiesta for the Horses” on Aug. 21 at En Fuego Cantina & Grill, 1342 Camino del Mar in Del Mar. From 6 p.m. to close, the restaurant will donate 10 percent of all sales to After the Finish Line. In addition, throughout August, $1 will be donated to the nonprofit for each “Finish Line” Margarita sold.
“We get so much support from individuals who go into the restaurant and learn about After the Finish Line,” Mellen said.
The organization applies all of its proceeds from such fundraisers and donations toward auction purchases; hay and feed; boarding expenses; a horse’s surgery and/or medical expenses; farrier/dental/vet expenses; and transporting a horse to safety, along with other requests. After the Finish Line follows up to make sure the horse is receiving proper care, Mellen said.
She emphasized that the money raised goes entirely toward the care of horses, as all of the nonprofit’s members are volunteers and none have salaries.
For more information about After the Finish Line, or to become an event volunteer, sponsor or donor, contact Mellen or go to www.afterthefinishline.org. In addition, the organization is planning to host an information table at the Del Mar racetrack. Last year, the table was located in the Clubhouse lobby on Pacific Classic Day.
“We want to surpass what we did (last year),” Mellen said.