National group will raise money, accredit care programs
When a thoroughbred thunders past cheering racetrack crowds, it does so with the help of an off-track entourage of trainers, handlers and owners providing constant, doting care.
But for the horses no longer making money on the racetrack or in the breeding barn — when they become too old, injured or too slow to race — that attention quickly evaporates. And their future becomes anything but certain.
Only a minority of former racehorses get cushy retirements in bucolic pastures. While some are retrained as show horses or adopted for personal use, others are sold at auction, leaving them subject to neglect or being bought for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.
“There aren’t enough homes for the horses that need them,” said Kathy Guillermo, an equine specialist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “And there has historically been a lack of collective responsibility for what happens to thoroughbreds once they finish racing.”
Now, a broad coalition of thoroughbred industry stakeholders has kicked off racing’s most comprehensive initiative to date, establishing the Lexington-based Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance to act as a national fundraising and accrediting body to oversee, and help fund, the horses’ retirement care.
Supporters hope it will bolster a patchwork of smaller, private rescue and retirement programs that have struggled with funding and, in some cases, inconsistent oversight.
Funded by seed money from the Breeders’ Cup, The Jockey Club and Keeneland Association, the organization will inspect and accredit after-care facilities using standards covering operations, education, horse management, facility services, insurance and adoption policies. It will also begin raising millions of dollars to award programs that pass muster.
“People are starting to acknowledge that it’s a major issue for the sport,” said Mike Ziegler, interim executive director for the group, who said he’s optimistic it will bring substantial improvements to a side of the “sport of kings” that few spectators ever see.
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