08/14/2012 4:18PM

'Industry-wide approach' needed to fund post-retirement programs, officials say

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Racing needs to devise an “industry-wide approach” to funding and operating post-retirement programs for racehorses so that all facets of the sport contribute to the effort, several officials who spoke at the Saratoga Institute on Racing and Gaming Law conference on Tuesday said.

The officials, who run post-retirement placement programs at lower- or middle-tier tracks, said that they currently bear a greater burden for finding homes for retired racehorses than their larger counterparts because of the greater proportion of near-retirement horses that typically perform at their tracks. As a result, the tracks are usually placed under greater scrutiny than larger tracks, even while having fewer resources to devote to their post-retirement programs.

“Since we’re often the last stop, we’re considered to be more responsible,” said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs in East Boston, in an interview following a presentation about the track’s efforts to ensure that horses retired off the track find homes. “I don’t want to sound like we’re complaining, because we’re committed to our own effort, and we believe in it. But some states and some jurisdictions are clearly doing more than others, and I think we need an industry-wide solution to stretch the economic burden more proportionally.”

Tuttle and others spoke Tuesday at the law conference during a day-long program devoted to horse-welfare issues. The conference was to continue Wednesday with a program dedicated to casino-gambling issues in the state.

The comments from officials who spoke during the program highlighted the hodgepodge array of organizations that are attempting to address an issue that has become a cause célèbre both inside and outside the racing industry. Currently, many racetracks operate individual post-retirement programs, in some cases because tracks are required to have an affiliation with aftercare organizations as a condition of a voluntary accreditation program, but also in many cases because the industry is rapidly responding to concerns about the fate of its retired athletes. Those programs also strike relationships with a smattering of individual offtrack retirement programs with their own funding sources.

Funding for the ontrack programs is usually provided through a combination of assessments on racing participants and contributions from tracks and horsemen’s organizations. Those contributions, however, are usually insufficient to provide funding for a horse’s retirement, so the organizations focus on finding adoptive homes for retired animals.

“Our funding is always a problem,” said David Brown, president of the Finger Lakes Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which runs a placement program that can provide transition space for only 18 horses at a time. “We never have enough money. We are not large enough, nor financially stable enough,” to take any horse that retires off the track, so some horses slip through the program’s cracks.

Several organizations are seeking to involve a larger number of industry participants in providing funding for post-retirement programs, including the recently formed Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. Those efforts will likely extend soon to the breeding industry and the auction industry, which do not have any programs that require funding for retirement programs (the Jockey Club allows breeders to voluntarily contribute through an opt-in program attached to foal registrations).

“It’s time for everyone in the industry to step up and contribute to aftercare,” Mike Ziegler, director of the TAA, said during the conference. He called the efforts to involve all the facets as a way to “share the burden.”

Kraig Kulikowski, a veterinarian and equestrian, said during a presentation on post-retirement programs that breeders should be required to contribute to post-retirement programs at the time that foals are registered, in part to provide adequate funding for the programs but also to discourage breeders from producing foals without considering and contributing to the costs of a horse’s long-term care.

“If your argument against this idea is economic because you do not want to put financial hardship on breeders and owners, your concern puts their wallet first and the horse’s welfare second,” Kulikowski said.

Tuttle and his family have taken in one of the retired Suffolk horses. He said it is costing his family $12,000 a year to care for the horse.

“We love him, and he’s a great horse,” Tuttle said. “But it’s not without its financial consequences.”