Carmel Valley woman’s nonprofit After the Finish Line rescues former racehorses

By Kelley Carlson


Scooter Roach was a graded stakes-winning racehorse during a career that spanned nine years. But somehow, the Illinois-bred gelding — who had won nearly $843,000 — descended the ranks and eventually ended up being entered in a low-level claiming race in 2010, catching the attention of the media.

Fortunately for Scooter, efforts by his fans and former connections allowed him to be retired soon afterward and brought to the Illinois Equine Humane Center. He is now transitioning into a new career as a jumper.

One of the organizations involved in his rescue was After the Finish Line, a nonprofit group started by former Carmel Valley resident Dawn Mellen, that is dedicated to saving, rehabilitating and caring for former racehorses until they are adopted.

“I was reading a racing newspaper at the racetrack and saw an ad for a horse rescue organization,” she explained. “I said to myself, ‘Why do horses need to be rescued?’ When I got home, I visited the rescue’s website. I was shocked to learn what happens to a majority of the horses that were no longer able to race because they were too slow to win or injured. That’s when I became involved in thoroughbred racehorse rescue — 13 years ago. Because I wanted to increase my involvement, I started After the Finish Line in October 2007.”

Since then, the Toluca Lake-based group has been contributing funds to rescue and retirement organizations throughout the country to save horses from slaughter and neglect. These include the United Pegasus Foundation, CANTER of California, Neigh Savers, The Golden Carrot, Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue, TROTT, White Rock Horse Rescue and Heavenly Horse Haven.

“Horses everywhere need our help,” Mellen said. “We don’t discriminate with (them) — we don’t care if they’ve won $7,000 or $700,000 — they all try their best.”

United Pegasus Foundation occasionally seeks assistance for the cost of hay from After the Finish Line, according to United Pegasus founder and President Helen Meredith.

“Things are tough (financially),” she said. “It’s good to have a fundraising foundation like (After the Finish Line). They have more time to do the fundraising and create awareness of thoroughbreds off the track.”

Meredith said After the Finish Line often donates about $1,000 a couple of times each year to United Pegasus.

“Right now, we’re desperate,” she said. “We hope lots of people donate to (After the Finish Line) so they can help more horses.”

To aid these organizations, After the Finish Line relies on its own fundraisers and donations. Fifteen events supporting the nonprofit have been planned this year, including several locally.

One of them is the fourth annual “A Tribute to the Majesty of Thoroughbreds,” slated from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 4 at the Hilton San Diego/Del Mar. Actor and voiceover artist Mike Villani will serve as master of ceremonies, while Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg will return as auctioneer. Horse racing artist Fred Stone will be the guest speaker, and singer Liza G. Fly, known for her song “Zenyatta,” will perform during the silent auction. The event is open to the public.

Another fundraiser is the Del Sol Classic Horse Show series, next set for Aug. 17 and 18 at the Del Mar Horsepark. Former racehorses will compete against one another as hunters and jumpers for prize money.

Other local events held recently include “Fiesta for the Horses” at En Fuego restaurant in Del Mar and the “Race to Fashion” runway show at Westfield UTC mall.

Last year, After the Finish Line raised nearly $100,000, Mellen said, with just over half coming from “Tribute.”

The organization donates its proceeds toward auction purchases; to help pay for a horse’s surgery and/or medical expenses; farrier/dental/vet expenses; hay and feed; boarding expenses; and transporting a horse to safety, along with other requests. After the Finish Line will follow up to make sure the horse is receiving the proper care, Mellen said.

She also emphasized that the money raised goes entirely toward the care of horses — all of the organization’s members are volunteers and none have salaries.

“We are here to put a positive spin on a negative situation,” Mellen said. “We’re giving (the horses) a second chance.”

For more information about After the Finish Line, or to be an event volunteer, sponsor or donor, go to

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