CECILTON -- For a few moments, the old horse must have thought he was back at Belmont Park.
He was being brushed like a stakes horse, getting "buffed up" for the cameras.
Only this time, Three Engines, a graded stakes winner of $265,000 and a onetime Triple Crown hopeful, was not in a winner's circle.
He was being used as a sort of poster horse for Greener Pastures, Maryland's first full-fledged retirement home for racehorses.
In horse racing, one misstep in one stretch run can turn a fine athlete in the bloom of health to a hopeless has-been with a broken leg.
If the animal survives such a breakdown, he is still usually discarded or destroyed. Cripples can't make money. Many other fine animals are in the same predicament, once a long and useful career on the track comes to an end.
But, Three Engines, in a roundabout way, got lucky. After fracturing a sesamoid, he was sold for $1 as a riding horse by the owner whose silks he had carried to victory in the Tidal Handicap and in two other stakes placings. Too fiery for the mundane life as a hack, he was eventually turned over by Cecil county horsewoman Jewelynne Montgomery to a good home where he will be well-cared for for the rest of his life.
In September, Three Engines became the first horse accepted at Greener Pastures.
A year ago, the idea for such a place was just being hatched by Mrs. Alaire duPont, the famous owner of five-time Horse of the Year Kelso, and some of her well-heeled neighbors.
Now, there is an actual Greener Pastures facility operating in full swing with a full-time manager, Mark Monteverdi. Five horses already are on the grounds and two more have been accepted. There is capacity for 35 to 40 horses.
Mrs. Jan duPont, who dispersed her Hextonia racing stable a few years ago, has offered a part of her Hexton Farms as a haven for these animals.
Mrs. duPont leases a 20-stall barn and 60 acres of paddocks with run-in sheds rent free to the foundation on a yearly basis. The group, which now includes about 30 concerned horse owners, has affiliated itself with the national Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and elected its first president, Herb Moelis, who owns Candyland Farm in nearby Middletown, Del.
"Eventually, we want to model ourselves after the foundation's main farm in Walkill, N.Y.," Moelis said. "They have had great success using the horses in a program to rehabilitate prisoners. The prisoners work with the horses and learn horsemanship as part of a four-year program. Even if they don't decide to pursue that kind of career once they get out of prison, they get attached to the animals and take total responsibility in caring for them on a seven-day-a-week basis."
Moelis eventually hopes Greener Pastures will move its home base to the Charles Hickey School, the state's training school for juvenile offenders located in the Cub Hill section of Baltimore County.
Officials at the school have been receptive to the idea, but say it has yet to be discussed with Nancy Grasmick, the new secretary of the Juvenile Services Department. They also say the school must first deal with the governor's plan to have it "privatized" (operated by a private contractor instead of the state).
"I hope this doesn't mean that our idea will be shelved," said Monique Koehler, the Thoroughbred Foundation's national director. "They've got the land and it's beautiful. What an opportunity to help these kids, many of whom have been abused or come from poor economic situations. It's just a matter of constructing paddocks and revamping a building for a stable to be able to get the program started. We will raise those funds ourselves to do that. We can't wash our hands of these kids. That's what our program is all about -- renewed hope for kids, for the men in prison, and for the horses, too."
Moelis said a five-person acceptance committee, consisting of well-known horse owners Anna Sasso, Sue Cushing and Chip Landry, as well as Jan duPont and his wife, Ellen Moelis, decide which horses are accepted at the facility.
"It's a pretty simple criteria -- the horse must be a thoroughbred. He must have raced and there should be some sort of financial need on the owner's part," Moelis said. "We're not a dumping ground for a rich owner who just doesn't want to feed his horse."
Moelis estimates that it costs the foundation $3.75 a day to feed the horses hay and grain and bed them on straw. The only paid employee is Monteverdi. "So far, we have had our veterinarian and blacksmith work donated," Moelis said. All of Greener Pastures bills are paid through the national retirement foundation office in New York.
"So far, we have raised about $15,000 to $20,000 in donations," Moelis said. He added that he is hosting a benefit party and auction at his farm tomorrow evening which he hopes will raise another $15,000 to $20,000.
That there is a need for a retirement home for racehorsescame through quite eloquently on a recent application received at Greener Pastures. Linda Clement, a small owner-trainer with an eight-horse stable at Penn National Race Course near Harrisburg, wrote the group, asking it to accept her 11-year-old horse, An Drew Away, which they did.
"Andrew has made 125 starts," Clement said. "He has won 17 races, most of them for me and my husband over a period of about seven years. Our financial situation is not good. We supplement our income by ponying and exercising horses. We run for small purses, but don't have small expenses, at the smaller tracks.
"Andrew is like a member of our family and we are looking for the best possible place for him to retire. For financial reasons, we can't afford to keep him. He has been good to us, so we want to be good to him. He is sound except for problems incurred from years of running. One lung is scarred from bleeding. He has an old saucer fracture in his right cannon bone, but mostly his cardiovascular system just can't take running any more. He is a good boy with very few vices. He doesn't bite or kick and he likes attention."
Like so many other horse owners who have faced the same situation -- "we are desperate to do the right and decent thing for him," Clement added -- Greener Pastures is long overdue.
"Obviously, we can't save every horse," Koehler said. "But, by doing this, by so many people volunteering and donating their time and money, the horse people of Maryland are setting an example. They show that this is an industry that cares."