Before the awards were handed out for the best racehorses in North America at the 46th annual Eclipse Awards this year, a live auction for a “Saratoga Shuttle” private charter flight courtesy of Luxair Jets was held in front of the packed crowd. The Gulfstream IV private charter flight between Lexington, Ky., and Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for up to 12 people, raised $82,000 – twice its retail value – for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA).
According to TAA Operations Consultant Stacey Clark Rogers, Luxair Jets, who has recently become a significant sponsor of Thoroughbred racing events including this year's Eclipse Awards, came to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) and subsequently the TAA with the idea of auctioning off a flight to benefit Thoroughbred aftercare.
“The NTRA told us they had a sponsor who wanted to do something big the evening of the Eclipse Awards to publicly support aftercare in a charitable way,” said Clark. “The team behind Luxair Jets is very passionate about horse racing, but they're equally passionate about horses and the industry.”
Luxair Jets offered up one round-trip “Saratoga Shuttle” package initially, but as bidding soared upwards of $40,000, the company offered up a second package and the two top bidders – Ken Ramsey of Ramsey Farm and B. Wayne Hughes of Spendthrift Farm – each paid $41,000 as co-winning bids.
Proceeds from the auction will go directly toward advancing the TAA's mission of raising the standard of aftercare for retired racehorses by providing accreditation protocols and standards for aftercare organizations and annual funding to those organizations that meet accreditation requirements.
“It is important that we keep focusing on the fact that we are the only group that accredits aftercare organizations, and these groups that we are granting money to have to continue to prove that they are meeting these standards and doing a good job,” said Clark. “This is an industry decision – to find a way to make aftercare a major topic and that the collective 'we' are doing our due diligence to make sure our horses are landing in a good spot.”
The TAA raises funding through support from a variety of industry stakeholders. After initial seed money was donated by the Breeders' Cup Ltd., The Jockey Club and the Keeneland Association, Thoroughbred industry leaders in the areas of sales companies, consignors, buyers, racetracks, farms, horsemen's groups, owners, trainers and a variety of other businesses connected to horse racing and breeding stepped up to lend their support.
The result is that since its inception in 2012, the TAA has now accredited 64 organizations specializing in Thoroughbred aftercare which collectively operate more than 180 facilities across the U. S. and Canada (as of November 22 when they announced their newest list of newly accredited organizations).
Clark says that the biggest hurdle up until now has been to educate industry stakeholders about what the term “aftercare” means and all it encompasses. She says a culture shift has come about and the term is part of common industry vernacular. That means it is now time to transition to educating people about the TAA's role as an accrediting body and fundraising entity, rather than simply knowing that they are involved with aftercare.
“This year we really want to push the understanding of what the TAA actually does and what it means for an aftercare organization to be accredited,” explained Clark. “We are not an organization that does hands-on retraining of horses. Rather, in a number of ways we support the many organizations and people who do this work.
“Our accreditation process helps organization maintain proper business standards, protocols and procedures, or elevate themselves to meet industry standards. We are helping them find new sources of funding and ultimately allowing them to help more horses. We're creating an industry solution.”
Clark sited several examples of this plan proving fruitful, as many of its accredited organizations, including Second Stride, the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center and others set records last year for the number of horses they adopted out.
The TAA recently announced several new board members joining the organization at the executive level, as well as the appointment of John Phillips, owner of Darby Dan Farm, as the group's new president. Clark says this influx of new blood will offer new perspectives, a key element for the TAA's continued growth.
“The new board members bring new ideas and new energy. The people who helped build the TAA are still eager to help and are not going anywhere, but it's good to have new perspectives and fresh ideas. Mike is from Del Mar and Dora Delgado is from the Breeders' Cup and we look forward to benefiting from the perspectives they bring from those unique and prosperous organizations, as well as others whose backgrounds in and out of the Thoroughbred industry are deep and varied,” said Clark.
“The most meaningful change often comes from within. The Thoroughbred industry recognized the problem and wanted to create a lasting solution. Thanks to so many, we continue to gain momentum.”
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others. While she currently has no plans to build an arc, she is the go-to food source for two dogs, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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