The Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association has plans to open a Thoroughbred retraining facility in conjunction with New Vocations near Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course.
The horsemen’s group, which also represents owners and trainers at Presque Isle Downs & Casino, voted in June to move ahead with the plan. Officials are looking at farms and hope to have two barns, one for layups and one that would be used to transition racehorses to second careers.
The Pennsylvania HBPA met July 12 to further discuss the plan, organization president Stephanie Beattie said. The group plans to seed the project with $50,000 and is examining long-term funding methods, including per-start fees and check-off donations.
“I think it will be a great thing for Penn National,” said Beattie, one of the leading trainers at the track near Harrisburg. “We’ll start out on a smaller scale and gradually increase it. We want to make sure we’re doing it right. We would have nothing to do with the day-to-day business, just the funding mechanism.”
Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for track owner Penn National Gaming Inc., said track officials have been involved in discussions about the project.
“They’ve advised us about what they’re thinking of doing,” McErlean said. “We’ve talked about varying degrees of support but have made no set commitments. We told them to come back to us with a plan.”
Beattie said she hopes Penn National will match the seed money, “but if I got half of that, I’d be happy.”
The project has been discussed since last year, but it has taken on new meaning given developments—ejections from the barn area and allegations of horses being sent to slaughter—this year at Penn National. Beattie owned and trained one of the horses considered “missing” and has come under fire.
Beattie said that as of April, she began making those who take her horses sign contracts. She said she doesn’t send horses to kill pens, but until earlier this year had nothing in writing.
“It’s something we didn’t do before,” she said. “We now have a standard contract for HBPA members. We believe we need to (take action) so what happened to me doesn’t happen to other trainers at Penn National.
“We’re in the process of building a program, but the problem is an overabundance of horses. I don’t know how we’ll find homes for all of them.”