A year later she decided there had to be a place for old geldings who weren't as accomplished as John Henry (who by then had been officially retired and bedded down at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington) but who had distinguished themselves on the track. Belcuore came up with CERF and had it incorporated as a nonprofit foundation in 1987.
She then sent 6,000 letters to horsemen, asking for donations of money and horses. The money trickled in slowly, but within a few weeks she acquired her first horse, Pecos Pippin. A few months later she had a handful of horses that she boarded in temporary facilities.
Belcuore borrowed money to purchase five acres of land in Winchester, and in 1988 she sold her house in Los Angeles to buy five more acres. The ranch consists of 27 paddocks, two houses and a barn. Belcuore and her cousin, Jo Italiano, run the foundation from one of the houses. Belcuore also employs two full-time workers, and the ranch is equipped not only for boarding but also to service horses during layups and to break yearlings.
These days, the only organization providing CERF any real financial help is the Oak Tree Racing Association at Santa Anita, which gives the foundation $5,000 a year. (The same organization has contributed $1 million annually to the UC Davis Veterinary School for each of the past five years; it cut back to $750,000 for 1994.) Another organization, Hollywood Park Charities, donated $2,500 to the foundation last year but turned down CERF's request for funds this year. Santa Anita's and Del Mar's charities, which like Hollywood Park's aid various individual philanthropies of their choice, have turned down CERF every year since its inception.
Last year was especially trying for Belcuore. In April she sent 200 letters to owners and breeders in an attempt to get help. She received two donations of $5,000, one from Hollywood Park vice president Warren Williamson and another from owner and breeder W.R. Hahn.
Ed Friendly, a former television producer and the president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, says that while he himself has donated a modest amount to the foundation, his organization cannot do the same. "We feel it's each owner's responsibility to take care of his own horse after retirement," Friendly says, echoing the attitude of many horse people. "It's not right to expect owners to take care of someone else's horse. I don't ask people to take care of my kids or my dogs."
William Murray, a writer for The New Yorker who has chronicled Belcuore's struggle in his 1992 book The Wrong Horse, disagrees with Friendly. "It's a disgrace to the industry that she has to go around, hat in hand, and beg for money," he says. "There are at least 100 individuals or organizations in this business who could easily help her. For a sport that's so image conscious, it's inexcusable."
Belcuore talks with envy of the support given by New York State and New York tracks to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation at the Wallkill Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Some 50 retired racehorses are fed and groomed by inmates, thus providing a service to both man and beast. The state-operated organization raised more than $250,000 last year by auctioning off stallion shares.
Belcuore dreads the day she will have to turn away a horse. But she fears it is approaching. "I don't like to give voice to it, but I've come to realize that we may have to fold soon," she says. "How much longer can we go on with no money? I just can't bear the thought of anything happening to my boys."
She laughs as a horse nuzzles her neck. "I bet on every one of these guys when they ran," she says. "I screamed for them all then. I can't stop now."