Former racehorses join guests for Win Place Home gala

Karin Kelmic, left, and Bethany Carnes, right, with 6-year-old Théoden whose former racing name was "Noble Nick" at the third annual Win Place Home Gala on Saturday. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Guests at the third annual Win Place Home Gala spent an evening getting to know the racehorses Saturday.

Win Place Home is a nonprofit dedicated to helping former racehorses find new homes after they retire.

“We have a tendency to think of (horses) as dumb beasts or beasts of burden, and that’s not what they are,” said Karin Kelmic, board member. “Each horse has their own personality and is their own entity, so it’s about letting them be who they want to be.”

CJ Marinaccio, founder and trainer, said she decided to host the gala in the barn so that guests could see firsthand who they are helping.

Erin Peterson, left, and Alison Taylor, right, pet a horse at the third annual Win Place Home Gala on Saturday. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

The event included a silent auction with more than 100 items to bid on, a raffle, food, drinks, craft tables, caricatures, psychic reading and giant lawn games.

Guest Bethany Carnes adopted Legend, a 9-year-old former racehorse who had a long racing career with 37 starts, from Win Place Home a year and a half ago after coming across an ad on Facebook.

“I had a connection with him right away,” Carnes said. “I’ve ridden an assortment of horses, but I prefer riding (thoroughbreds) over warmbloods or ponies, because they really try so hard for you. He’s amazing — I love him.”

Guests were able to read about the horses at the barn and learn a little bit about their histories, as well as read about Legend and the other eight horses who had already been adopted on the “Where are they now?” wall.

Samantha Simon, 10, helps Stella Tinsley, 9, (right to left) make a craft at the third annual Win Place Home Gala on Saturday. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Marinaccio started the organization three years ago to rescue, rehabilitate and retrain thoroughbreds to continue to lead active careers, as it’s often hard for a racehorse to transition easily into life on a pasture.

“Seeing someone following their passion, following their dreams and making it a reality it makes me tear up just thinking about it,” Kelmic said. “(CJ’s) done an amazing thing by channeling her love for the horses, her skill with the horses, both treating them and training them, and combining all of that love and passion and really finding the right person for that horse and the right horse for that person — you don’t see that too often.”

Only some racehorses retire when they’re old, most actually retire because they’re either hurt or too slow, which can be when they’re only 3 or 4 years old, Marinaccio said.

Marinaccio gives the horses the opportunity to be themselves and simply pays attention to them as she tries different things with them until they find their stride, according to Kelmic.

“She is so dedicated to watching them and seeing where they get excited, where they’re happy,” Kelmic said.

Win Place Home is run entirely donation based on a “pay-it-forward system,” which means any adoption fees or donation goes toward the care for the next horses, according to Kelmic.

“It’s all about the horses, their care, what they need, taking the time for them to transition from the track into actually being just a horse, and then finding out what that horse wants to be,” Kelmic said. “Hopefully, this is just the stopgap between life on the track and their new life, doing what they want to do.”

Attendees of the third annual Win Place Home Gala on Saturday were able to view silent auction items in the midst of the horses in the barn. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

All of the proceeds from the event will go toward helping more retired horses come off the racetrack, according to Marinaccio.

Win Place Home has rehomed nine horses already and now has four horses in training.

“With tonight, I think I will be able to take on two more horses from the track, and, hopefully, in the next week even they’ll start coming in,” Marinaccio said.

For more information about Win Place Home, visit winplacehome.org or email [email protected].

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About the author

Emily Alvarenga

Emily Alvarenga

Emily Alvarenga covers features and community for The Signal. She's new to the paper and Santa Clarita, but hasn't moved far from her hometown of Temecula, California. Emily graduated from San Diego State University in 2017 and has been writing and reporting since high school.