The Thoroughbred industry is making substantial strides in the area of racehorse aftercare programs—some very public and others behind the scenes.
Aftercare is the focal point of the Oct. 18-19 professional education seminar offered by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance. A day and a half has been devoted to the topic.
Donna Barton Brothers, the retired jockey who is now a broadcaster, author, and advocate for retired racehorses, said during an Oct. 18 luncheon talk many industry organizations were represented at a nine-hour meeting at Keeneland as part of the new “Retired Racehorse Funding Committee.” Racetracks, sale companies, industry organizations, breeders, and others were represented.
Barton Brothers said industry officials have recognized there are impediments to funding for retirement programs, including the fact donors don’t know where the money goes. She said the need for an accreditation program for retirement facilities is being discussed.
The NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance is involved in the effort but wouldn’t necessarily be the accrediting body, an alliance official said.
Barton Brothers also suggested marketing is needed. She noted many people don’t realize off-the-track Thoroughbreds have a work ethic that carries through in all they do, and that it can benefit them and their new owners when they move onto careers in eventing or riding.
If expectations are met the committee’s work could produce the most comprehensive program for funding and regulation of retirement and rehabilitation programs for equines.
“We can’t save every Thoroughbred,” Barton Brothers said. “But there is a lot we can do.”
Barton Brothers said horse racing needs to be aware of media coverage and attention from groups that view it as a target. She said outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have opened the door for good exposure, but also negative exposure.
“People now have unlimited access to information that isn’t filtered,” Barton Brothers said, “and PETA is always around. They’re just waiting for the right picture to vilify the entire Thoroughbred industry.”
Barton Brothers said the 2010 Breeders’ Cup incident involving Life At Ten’s performance in the Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) and a televised jockey interview before the race is “an example of how one tiny little thing can spread out of control and catch fire. Now the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is trying to figure out how to regulate spontaneity. I don’t know how you can do that.”
Barton Brothers said that while working for trainer D. Wayne Lukas she learned about the message and the audience and the value of thinking before speaking.
“If you’re going to talk to the media, know your message,” she said.
Andrew Chesser of The Jockey Club provided an update on Thoroughbred Connect, the organization’s online program that allows users to track the status of retired horses. Since May about 2,000 horses have been enrolled, he said.
“There will be more to this program as it progresses,” Chesser said. “We launched it (five months ago) in a very controlled environment. We just want to make sure people are talking.”
NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop said the alliance places a premium on racehorse aftercare in its code of standards. The organization has been active in pushing related programs at accredited racetracks.
"It's something we didn't think was addressed on a national scale until now."