05/18/2017 3:21PM

New idea floated to raise aftercare funds

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WASHINGTON – A proposal by former racetrack executive Allen Gutterman to ask racetracks to add a surcharge to their reserved seating tickets on popular race days to raise money for the care of retired racehorses is generating discussion among the racing industry, according to attendees of the Pan American Conference.

Gutterman, who has worked for the New York Racing Association, Churchill Downs, and The Stronach Group, described the proposal during a speech Wednesday at the International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses, a conference held in conjunction with the Pan American Conference at the same venue. The details of the proposal quickly made the rounds Thursday as a viable way to create an annual, permanent funding mechanism for aftercare efforts.

Gutterman’s proposal would add a surcharge to reserved seats, with the surcharge clearly advertised as being earmarked for aftercare funding. Gutterman said the industry should ask each North American racetrack to apply the surcharge for a single day of the year, and he estimated that the plan could raise as much as $1 million a year, provided the most high-profile tracks participate on their most popular days.

“If a fan is willing to shell out, say, $2,500 for a prime seat on Millionaires’ Row at beautiful Churchill Downs, would he object to spending an additional $5 for the same seat knowing that the additional $5 is earmarked for aftercare?” Gutterman said. “Honestly, do you think that on these days, fans would object? Especially those paying with corporate credit cards?”

Currently, the Thoroughbred industry seeks funding for aftercare organizations in a variety of ways. Some are mandatory, such as contributions from purses earned at tracks that have launched retirement programs and a mandatory surcharge on sales that require buyers and consignors to contribute 0.5 percent of the price of a horse sold at auction. Also, in 2012, The Jockey Club added a $25 surcharge to its foal-registration fee to raise funds for aftercare efforts. Other funding is sought through voluntary donations.

Aftercare funding has become a topic of increasing importance in the racing industry as the sport’s viewpoint on retired racehorses has begun to evolve and mature, in no small measure because of pressure from animal-welfare advocates. The overwhelming consensus in the racing industry is that the sport needs to raise millions more dollars each year to properly address the issue.

The industry currently coordinates the majority of its fundraising through an organization founded in 2012, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, whose members had a major presence at the International Forum on the Aftercare of Racehorses, which was held for the first time this year. The TAA has accredited 180 facilities in the U.S. and has awarded $8.3 million in grants since its founding, the organization says.

Gutterman is a member of the TAA’s advisory board. He was also appointed to a racing panel set up last year by the Humane Society of the U.S., an organization that is viewed warily by several constituencies in racing.

Gutterman stressed that one of the largest benefits of his proposal is the creation of an “annuity” for retirement funding.

“Imagine, an annuity for racehorses,” Gutterman said. “A painless, steady stream of income from fans for our retired athletes, emanating from our most popular events without touching revenue from admission and handle.”

Gutterman acknowledged that the proposal may get some pushback from racing fans, but he said the vast majority of racing fans would support the surcharge, and he noted that most industry constituencies are already making annual, mandatory contributions to the aftercare effort.

“Here’s what I’ve concluded from a life in horse racing,” Gutterman said. “Fans may curse jockeys, they may question the tactics chosen by trainers, but they love the horses they bet, and willingly make excuses for why they didn’t run better.”

Michael Blowen, who runs the popular Old Friends retirement facility in Georgetown, Ky., said mandatory funding programs are critical to providing consistent sources of aftercare funding.

“If you always have the tin cup out, no matter how much someone loves horses, eventually they are going to go to the other side of the street,” Blowen said.