Dromoland Farm owner Gerry Dilger's death on March 4 sent a shockwave through the Thoroughbred breeding industries of both Central Kentucky and his native Ireland, but it also showed just how many lives he touched over the course of his own life.
The latter point was made abundantly clear when the idea was proposed to fund a scholarship in Dilger's name to ensure that influence on the business wouldn't go away anytime soon. A GoFundMe drive was set up Thursday afternoon, and it had raised over $90,000 over the course of about 24 hours, not including any number of private donations outside the website.
The list of donors on the fundraising site read like an industry directory, spanning across farms, vocations, and countries to pay tribute to the co-breeder of 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and mentor to many newcomers in the Thoroughbred business.
“I'm absolutely thrilled to bits with the reaction we're getting from folks for this fund,” said fund co-founder Lesley Campion of Paramount Sales. “It's way better than we anticipated. When we put up $100,000 for a goal, I said, 'Look, we want to think big,' but within four hours, we had $50,000 and it's continued to pour in. We just feel that it's a testament to the way Gerry lived his life. The amount of generosity he has shown everyone he interacted with, it's been reciprocated now…I'm not sure what makes some folks some folks regular and some folks extraordinary, but what whatever it is, Gerry had it in spades.”
Dilger had a long line of friends in the business left wondering how to properly honor the horseman's legacy after he passed away due to complications from cardiac arrest at age 61.
A conversation in the Paramount boardroom between Campion and Hartwell Farm owner Robbie Lyons, among several others, had them reflecting on Dilger's reputation for helping young people with a willingness to learn. From it, the idea came about to create a scholarship for a student of the Irish National Stud course in County Kildare, Ireland, of which Dilger himself was a graduate in 1977. The Irish National Stud program is one of the world's preeminent courses on Thoroughbred breeding, and has produced prominent figures in the sport throughout the world.
The Green Group – an organization well-attuned to the Thoroughbred industry – was called in to handle the business end of the scholarship; setting it up as a charitable foundation and taking care of the business acumen, while the boots-on-the-ground horsemen and women handled raising awareness and fundraising.
From that initial conversation quickly sparked many more conversations, and suddenly the Gerry Dilger Equine Scholarship Foundation had a group of helping hands that included Pat Costello, Gabriel “Spider” Duignan, Andrea Greathouse and Liz Moloney of Paramount Sales, James Keogh of Grovendale Farm, Adrian Regan of Hunter Valley Farm, Fasig-Tipton's Boyd Browning, Stuart Fitzgibbon of Castleton Lyons, and Lesley's husband Ted Campion of Dundrum Farm. Dilger's wife Erin, as well as their oldest daughter Claire, will also be on the charity's board.
A fundraising team of that magnitude can get a lot done, and the decision was quickly made to raise the goal on the GoFundMe page from its initial $100,000 to $150,000. With a higher bar to meet, the newly-formed foundation might be able to help even more students.
“Initially, we thinking it would just be a scholarship fund that we'd award to a child each year at the Irish National Stud course, but we're raising so much now that we want to do something on both sides of the Atlantic, to give a sponsorship to a Kentucky Equine Management Internship student,” Campion said.
The Kentucky Equine Management Internship is a program offering aspiring horsemen and women opportunities to work on central Kentucky Thoroughbred farms, which can be counted toward academic credit at participating colleges or practical experience for recent graduates.
Adding a scholarship beyond the one for the Irish National Stud program was a pleasant surprise for Campion and the fund's other organizers, but Campion said she envisioned the fund having more layers to it than just helping kids that want to learn about Thoroughbreds pay for programs to do so. What exactly that might be remains to be determined, but it was agreed upon by everyone involved that Dilger would have wanted it that way.
“A lot of it's dependent on the funds we raise, but we're going to try to brainstorm over the next week what additionally we can do with this funding,” she said, “It's obviously going to be something in Gerry's vision, because he was a mentor to so many kids through the years, and all of those kids have reached out over the past few days just to show their respect, to tell lovely stories, and share the experiences they had. We want to do something encouraging young people in the industry. What specifically that is, we haven't pinpointed it yet, but it'll be in that vein.”
To learn more about the Gerry Dilger Equine Scholarship Foundation and to donate, click here.
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