While two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart prepares himself for transition to the next phase of his career--ownership of his own Sprint Cup team in 2009--the foundation that bears his name is funding the transition of a whole other group of racers from the track into second careers of their own.
The Tony Stewart Foundation has awarded a $20,000 grant to Indianapolis-based Friends of Ferdinand, a non-profit volunteer organization that works with owners and trainers at the state’s two race tracks to identify and obtain Thoroughbreds that are nearing the end of their racing careers. FFI evaluates and retrains the horses, and finds new homes with devoted, caring owners. Its motto is “Retired from Racing, Not from Life.”
Six to seven Thoroughbreds, the first horses to be christened “Tony’s Ex-Racers,” will be brought into the FFI program Nov. 17 during the annual end-of-season paddock sale at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in Anderson.
Representatives of both Friends of Ferdinand and the Tony Stewart Foundation will be on hand to take a look at available horses and select those destined to become “Tony’s Ex-Racers.” Post-sale transport of the horses from Hoosier Park will be provided by members of the local group Red Hats & Purple Chaps.
“We are thrilled beyond words that the Tony Stewart Foundation has selected our program to receive its support,” said Friends of Ferdinand president Sara Busbice. “A grant this size is significant and enables us not only to continue, but to expand the work we do with our Indiana Thoroughbreds. Especially now, with the economy in such turmoil, support of this magnitude is simply incredible.
“We sincerely thank Tony Stewart, foundation executive director Joni Thompson, and everyone involved in giving the nod to this grant,” Busbice continued. “It means the world to those of us involved with Friends of Ferdinand, but, more importantly, it literally means the world to the horses.”
A total of 10 horses will be brought into the program as “Tony’s Ex-Racers”--those obtained from the Hoosier Park paddock sale, and two or three others already in line to come off the track and into FFI’s care.
The organization is named in memory of the 1986 Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and 1987 Horse of the Year who earned more than $4 million during his career. In 1989, he was retired from racing and exported to Japan to stand at stud. A few years later, Ferdinand was slaughtered for human consumption.
Friends of Ferdinand’s work and accomplishments have garnered support and respect from all segments of Indiana’s racing industry, along with national recognition and funding.
"We do what we do for three reasons,” Busbice said. “These ex-racers are at risk for abuse, neglect, and perhaps slaughter. Casting the net and catching at risk horses before they end up in less than ideal situations is not only cost-effective, but also spares the animals from suffering.”
Busbice praised Hoosier Park for joining the ranks of several other United States race tracks in adopting a zero tolerance policy toward slaughter.
According to a statement issued by Jeffrey Smith, Hoosier Park’s general manager of racing, trainers or owners stabling at Hoosier Park who directly or indirectly participate in the transport of a horse from the track to a slaughter facility, or to an auction to sell horses for slaughter, will be prohibited from having stalls at the track.
“We commend Hoosier Park for being a leader in this movement and thank them for their long-standing support of Friends of Ferdinand,” said Busbice.