A Worthy Cause

In the category of no good deed going unnoticed, the decision in 1999 by Arthur and Staci Hancock to return Gato Del Sol from Germany to his birthplace at Stone Farm near Paris, Ky., was cited by John Hettinger as the motivating factor for him to become involved in helping provide funds for racehorse adoption and retirement.

Hettinger made that comment while accepting the Industry Service Award from the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association during its annual awards dinner, held at Frank Stronach's Adena Springs Farm near Midway, Ky., on Sept. 7.

Gato Del Sol won the 1982 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) for Arthur Hancock and the late Leone J. Peters, the same partnership that bred him. When Gato Del Sol's stud career faltered, Hancock accepted an offer from German breeders to stand him in that country. However, after hearing of the fate of the outstanding racehorse Exceller, who was killed in a slaughterhouse in Sweden in 1997, Staci Hancock convinced her husband it was their duty to ensure the same would not happen to Gato Del Sol.

"There's the old saying that if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you," Arthur Hancock said at the time. "The same goes for horses. Take care of your horses and they'll take care of you."

Hettinger formed Blue Horse Charities, which raises money for adoption and retirement programs through the Fasig-Tipton sale company that he oversees as majority owner. Buyers at Fasig-Tipton sales are asked to contribute one-fourth of 1% to the charity, an amount matched by the sale company. Blue Horse Charities then disperses the funds to various organizations.

Before he formed Blue Horse Charities, Hettinger's R&R Stables was listed at numerous sales as a buyer of horses that appeared to be in danger of being purchased by "killers"--people who attend Thoroughbred auctions with the purpose of buying horses cheaply enough to turn a profit at the slaughterhouse. Hettinger then was successful in raising the minimum for most sale horses to $1,000, putting them out of reach of killer buyers.

Hettinger isn't alone in his effort to protect ex-racehorses from slaughter, nor was he the first to do so. But his contributions, financially, politically, and organizationally, have raised awareness of this serious issue to a new level and given numerous horses a second chance to have more productive lives when their racing days were over.

Allaire duPont and Herb and Ellen Moelis have supported this same cause for a dozen years through their creation of Thoroughbred Charities of America. This organization, which began with a small gathering in the Moelis' Delaware home that raised $15,000, has grown into a large annual charity auction and dinner that in 2000 attracted more than 400 people and grossed $1.2 million. Earlier this year, TCA distributed over $900,000 to 50 nonprofit organizations, many of them dedicated to adopting or re-training former racehorses. Since its formation, TCA has given more than $5 million to worthy organizations throughout the country.

This year's TCA auction will be held on Dec. 1 at the Moelis' Candyland Farm in Delaware, with Cross Gate Gallery in Lexington also involved in the event.

Another supporter of racehorse retirement programs is TOBA's new chairman, Gary Biszantz, who, among other things, has donated a farm in California to be used for former racehorses. Also active in raising funds for Thoroughbred retirements is horseman and entrepreneur Barry Weisbord, who holds an annual fundraiser each summer during the Saratoga meeting.

The days of ignoring the plight of former racehorses are over. Industry leaders are beginning to speak loud and clear and take action on this important issue. Their good deeds are not going unnoticed.