Groom Elite Program Undergoing Restructuring

Officials say program needs more resources to handle demand for services.

The Groom Elite Program is undergoing a restructuring to meet increased demand for its services, officials said Jan. 15.

Several Groom Elite board members met with horse racing industry representatives in Lexington Jan. 7-8 to explore opportunities to restructure the organization. Groom Elite, the only national horse racing workforce education program, has been in existence since 2001 when the program was started by the Texas Horsemen's Partnership and the Texas A&M University Agriculture Extension Service.

Over the past 14 years, 1,854 grooms have been certified by Groom Elite from more than 2,800 that have attended on-site classes at 30 racetracks, farms, high schools, and training centers in 14 states and two foreign countries. In cooperation with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and several of its local affiliates, Groom Elite has coordinated the placement of hands-on groom education programs at seven prisons in seven states utilizing retired racehorses.

"This meeting was necessary to revitalize Groom Elite," said Dr. Reid McLellan, executive director and lead instructor for the program. "The increasing demand for Groom Elite programs at racetracks, prisons, horse farms, community colleges, high schools, and equine centers across the country has pushed this organization beyond its current funding and administrative limits."

McLellan is the only full-time Groom Elite staff member, with part-time volunteer and in-kind administrative support from the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

Groom Elite vice president Frank Petramalo, executive director of the Virginia HBPA, said the program is very important to the horse industry. "Reid needs an expanded board, increased industry financial support, and an administrative base of operations to take Groom Elite to the next level," he said. "We want to meet the horse industry's needs by providing a broader-based and enhanced method of delivering workforce education programs."

Input at the meeting was provided by the National HBPA, NTRA, The Jockey Club, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, Race Track Chaplaincy of America, North American Racing Academy, Blue Grass Community & Technical College, Women in Racing, Virginia HBPA, and the Racing Officials Accreditation Program. Groom Elite interim committee members will consider the industry input in preparing a final strategic plan scheduled for presentation to the Groom Elite board of directors in March.

Organizations interested in providing financial and administrative support or serving on the board and its committee can contact McLellan at creid@gmail.com or 859-321-4377; or Dan Fick at dfick711@windstream.net and 817-845-2917.