If you're involved with Thoroughbreds in the state of Florida, both on the track and off, chances are you know Laurine Fuller-Vargas, and if you have yet to cross paths with her, you're going to want to change that. She has a lot of knowledge, hard work and talent to offer anyone involved in Thoroughbreds, regardless of whether their racing careers are in the past, present, or future.
A life-long horsewoman who comes from generations of trainers and jockeys, Vargas knows her way around a Thoroughbred — and around the Thoroughbred business. In addition to being a licensed trainer, Fuller-Vargas is the manager of her family's Cedar Lock Farm South, a full service Thoroughbred breeding, breaking and lay-up facility in Morriston, Fla.
Fuller-Vargas is also a life-long equestrian, growing up riding her family's retired racehorses in hunter/jumper shows, and it is that balance of life experiences – both the on-track and off-track pursuits – that led to her most fulfilling professional endeavor, Run for the Ribbons, a non-profit aimed at creating opportunities for former racehorses.
While Run for the Ribbons began in 2014 as a hunter/jumper horse show based at her family's farm, it has since grown into not only a popular horse show series for OTTB owners in Florida and the surrounding states, it has also expanded to serve as a rehabilitation and retraining adoption program. This year, Run for the Ribbons will host the inaugural Florida Thoroughbred Expo, a racehorse retraining competition based on some of the same foundational themes as the popular $100,000 Thoroughbred Makeover, held the past several years in Kentucky.
“I love what Steuart Pittman and the Retired Racehorse Project have done with the Thoroughbred Makeover and I hope a regional event like this would support his efforts,” said Fuller-Vargas. “I felt like Florida needed an event like this. There are so many Thoroughbreds down here and for many, especially those in the racing and breeding industry who have farms or horses at the track, we can't leave the farm and our business for five days to travel to his event. So, I wanted to create an opportunity for people down here to still take part in something different than a traditional hunter/jumper show that allows them to show how versatile and trainable their Thoroughbreds are.”
Scheduled for March 24th through the 26th, the Florida Thoroughbred Expo will offer $36,000 in prize money, divided between eight discipline categories: Show Hunter, Show Jumper, Dressage, Cross Country, Polo, Barrel Racing, Working Ranch/Racetrack Pony and Freestyle.
Horses entered in the competition must have made at last one start as a racehorse and their most recent race or published work must have been on or after March 1, 2013.
“We have broader eligibility criteria as far as when a horse ran or worked and we don't have any deadlines as far as when their retraining could or could not start, so there are no limits to what they could have been doing up to the past four years,” explained Fuller-Vargas. “For some horses, you can put ten months of post-race training into them and really show what potential they'll have and what they can do, but for others, ten months just isn't enough time. In four years, you've got a pretty good horse and can show what it's truly capable of.”
For horses that do not meet the eligibility requirement for the divisional competition, Fuller-Vargas created a variety show to be held on Sunday, the final day of the event, in which more seasoned Thoroughbreds who have found success in their off-track careers will show their talents to spectators.
Fuller-Vargas is excited about the horses who have already committed to coming to the event.
“Jockey Janelle Campbell will be bringing the first horse she ever won a race with to compete in the Working Ranch/Racetrack Pony division and possibly the Show Hunter division as well. That horse will do anything for this girl – she is definitely his person,” said Fuller-Vargas. “A horse my grandfather bred that gave my husband and me our first win together before we were married is competing with his owner. There will be an Olympic-level eventer in the Celebration demonstration on Sunday and a lot of other outstanding horses to watch.”
Fuller-Vargas says she's excited to get this event off of the ground and hopes to be able to offer even more prize money in the future to not only encourage people to come to the event, but to consider a Thoroughbred as their next riding or show horse.
“I want people to see and hear how much fun this event is and these horses are and think, ‘We need a Thoroughbred so we can go out there and compete,'” she explained. “We only started planning this last September so we're a bit behind the eight ball, but we're such a small organization that starting out this way is perfect. Down the road there's only room to grow, and if it grows monetarily, it will grow in reputation and size.”
Much of the prize money being offered to the top finishers has come from private donations and local business support. Fuller-Vargas also hopes to engage the Thoroughbred community to embrace and support the event.
“We struggle to get sponsorships from the racing industry, while the smaller local businesses and non-racing organizations are super-supportive. I love this industry – it's where my blood is and it's my family's livelihood. If you make money off of Thoroughbreds in any way – breeding, pinhooking, breaking, training, owning – you should care about and support the programs that help to find purpose for these horses when they retire. Even a simple $100 donation makes a difference, both financially and as a show of support from the for-profit side of the Thoroughbred business.”
For more information on the Run for the Ribbons Florida Thoroughbred Expo, including entry forms for horses and vendors and donation information, go to www.cedarlockfarm.com.
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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