Thursday's announcement by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance that it has agreements from numerous organizations to help fund racehorse retirement and retraining charities certainly is welcome news. In fact, it's well past time for the industry to recognize that it has not been doing nearly enough to support the equine athletes upon which all of us depend.
The challenge is enormous. Each year thousands of Thoroughbreds leave the racetrack because they are either too slow to compete or have suffered an injury that makes it impossible for them to race again. A small percentage of these horses are good enough to become stallions and broodmares. Some of them are taken care of by their owners or breeders. The vast majority falls into the category of the “unwanted horse.”
Dozens if not hundreds of retraining and retirement operations, nearly all of them operating on a shoestring budget and depending on the kindness of strangers, provide some semblance of a safety net, but it's not nearly enough. For many years, horse slaughter was a realistic if grim option, but American slaughter plants have been closed, and an ever-increasing number of racetracks have adopted anti-slaughter policies, making it even harder for owners and trainers to dispose of the animals for shipment to rendering facilities in Canada or Mexico.
In the meantime, the American public has become far more sensitive on the issue of animal rights. The Thoroughbred industry has rightly been criticized for not caring for its athletes, and for disposing of them unceremoniously.
That's why the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance is so important.
It all started because Thoroughbred owner Jack Wolf saw the growing problem and felt someone needed to push for institutional funding for aftercare programs. He organized a meeting in June of 2011, stressed the importance of industry-wide funding, and kept pushing. Earlier this year, the creation of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance was formally announced, and a skeleton staff was put together using seed money from The Jockey Club, Keeneland and Breeders' Cup.
Thursday's announcement shows how far the TAA has come, with 13 major Kentucky farms on-board, along with all of the major American Thoroughbred auction companies, The Jockey Club, and at least two of the racetracks owned by Frank Stronach.
The funding formula among those different groups means TAA will have roughly $5 million to spend on Thoroughbred aftercare, beginning in 2013. Not nearly enough to seriously address the problem, but it's a start.
Click here to see who is participating.
The Unwanted Horse Coalition estimates each retired racehorse costs approximately $2,000 a year to care for, so $5 million will provide for about 2,500 horses for one year. The next year those same 2,500 horses will cost another $5 million, plus a whole new group of horses will be leaving the racetrack and needing someone to take care of them. Multiply that out for 10 or 15 years for the life of each of those horses, and you'll see that a pretty significant amount of money is needed.
But just because we can't provide for every horse doesn't mean we shouldn't care for any of them. And the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance is far from being the only funding tool in place. CARMA, the California-based funding group that has pledged to work with the TAA, raises about $400,000 a year. Other tracks, like Penn National and Parx Racing in Pennsylvania, already have programs in place, as do some horsemen's associations.
Would it be better if every racetrack and every horsemen's organization, along jockeys, veterinarians and others, decided to work with the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance? Of course, because it would save money in administrative costs that could be better spent on caring for horses. It would show the world this industry has a unified front in dealing with a serious problem. That's not how horse racing works in the United States, unfortunately. Too many organizations and individuals think THEY have a better idea of how to do things. That's why we're in the state we are in.
It would be easy for me or anyone else at this stage of the TAA's fragile existence to single out this track, or that stallion farm, or this group of industry participants for not joining in on this extremely important cause. Considering how far we've come since Jack Wolf had that first meeting in New York 16 months ago, it's far more productive to focus on the positive momentum this movement has had.
It's more than a start. It's an indication a growing number of people in the Thoroughbred industry understands that funding Thoroughbred aftercare is the right thing to do.
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2016 Paulick Report.