By Ray Paulick
-- No one is more deserving of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's Industry Service Award than Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt, the co-owners of WinStar Farm near Versailles, Ky. The award was presented at TOBA's annual awards dinner Sept. 5.
In a very short time, both Casner and Troutt have made a significant impact on two charitable endeavors.
Casner is the force behind the Race for Education, a college scholarship program for the sons and daughters of people working at horse farms and racetracks. The program is funded in part by generous owners who donate 1% of the purse money earned by their horses. The program is a wonderful way for people who race horses to say "thanks" to those who work so hard taking care of the horses on the backstretch and farms. It gives the children of these workers an educational opportunity that otherwise might not be available.
Casner knows a little about struggling to make a living. Years before becoming successful in other businesses, he tried to make it as a horse trainer at small Midwestern tracks, a life he loved but one that could not financially support his family. He knows how tough farm and racetrack life can be.
The Race for Education offered its first four scholarships this year, and Casner plans for it to grow significantly. The recipients are Joseph Miller, a senior at the University of Louisville; Matthew Churchman, a freshman at the University of Louisville; Mary Beth Wethington, who attended her first year at Lexington Community College and hopes to transfer to the University of Kentucky; and Andrea Wallace, a sophomore at Northern Kentucky University.
Troutt has given generously to the Race Track Chaplaincy of America to institute the White Horse Award, to be given annually to a farm or racetrack worker who performed a heroic act on behalf of a horse or fellow human. Troutt, a devout Christian, grew up in housing projects, and the wealth he acquired through business has given him the wherewithal to support an organization that aids and comforts those in need.
Four finalists have been named for the White Horse Award. Two of them--Mike McBride and Charlie McKay-- saved horses from a barn in flames. McBride's heroism was displayed when he saved the stallion Reprize from a burning stallion barn at Meadowbrook Farm in Florida. McKay raced into one of several burning barns at Canada's Woodbine Racecourse, getting six horses out of their stalls and saving them from a fire that destroyed 32 Thoroughbreds. Both men risked their own lives in the process.
Roosevelt "Heavy" Robinson, a paddock valet and backstretch worker at Philadelphia Park, also performed a heroic act in connection with a fire, but his good deed involved a fellow human. Driving home from work, he and his brother came upon the scene of an automobile accident that had a driver trapped behind the steering wheel. Robinson went inside the smoking vehicle and used his strength to pull the wheel away from the woman and free her from the car. Seconds later, the car was fully engulfed by flames.
The fourth finalist, Leigh Gray, is a former Southern California exercise rider now working as a veterinary technician who has placed 112 retired Thoroughbreds at new homes. To do so, she convinced veterinary surgeons to perform pro-bono work on the severely injured horses, and then did after-care work on them herself at her seven-acre ranch.
One of the four finalists will be honored at a luncheon Oct. 23 at Santa Anita Park.
The Race for Education and Race Track Chaplaincy of America are only two of the many charitable organizations that serve the racing and breeding community. There are many, many others, equally deserving of the horse industry's support.