03/16/2012 1:12PM

New York groups form new retirement program in show horse field

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The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, New York Racing Association, and New York Thoroughbred Breeders have formed a new program, called TAKE2, that aims to create new career opportunities for retired racing Thoroughbreds and build demand for them in the horse show community.

The three associations will jointly sponsor Thoroughbred-only divisions for hunters and jumpers at the 2012 Skidmore College Saratoga Classic and Saratoga Springs horse shows, a series of four shows. The shows will take place at Saratoga Race Course.

In a joint announcement by the three groups on Friday, the organizations noted that the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association also will sponsor Thoroughbred-only classes at the Garden State Horse Show, another top-rated show, in May.

“The welfare of our equine athletes, both during and after their racing careers, is of the utmost importance to the owners and trainers competing at NYRA’s tracks,” said Rick Violette, president of the horsemen’s association. “NYTHA and NYRA have long offered financial support to organizations such as the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, but we are now expanding our initiatives. We want to give our retired racehorses the opportunity to find new vocations in different equestrian disciplines.”

The program attempts to address a change in the hunt-seat show world over the last 20 years: a decline in the popularity of Thoroughbreds in favor of a number of Warmblood breeds established in Europe. The breeders’ group’s executive director, Jeffrey Cannizzo, noted that “the incentives of the TAKE2 program should help to turn back the clock by creating a fresh demand for Thoroughbreds on the horse show circuit in New York.”

The effort also takes place at a time when racehorse welfare issues, both during horses’ race training and after their retirement, increasingly have been in the public spotlight. High-profile racehorse fatalities and the highly public effort to end horse slaughter in recent years have increased public scrutiny of the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry.

The TAKE2 initiative follows others. Last October, The Jockey Club committed $100,000 to the pilot Thoroughbred Incentive Program, which will sponsor Thoroughbred classes and high-point awards at 2012 horse shows. The 501(c)(3) Retired Racehorse Training Project also recently hosted its first Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge earlier this winter. That program matched three non-racing trainers with three retired racehorses (and one alternate); the pairs were judged on their training progress after six weeks. The training project and the Thoroughbred retraining group New Vocations also announced this week that they will host Thoroughbreds for All, billed as “a celebration and symposium of Thoroughbreds in second careers,” during the Kentucky Horse Park’s prestigious Olympic-level Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in late April.

The Saratoga Springs Horse Show I takes place May 2-6, with Saratoga Springs II set for May 9-13. Skidmore Classic I runs June 12-17, and Skidmore Classic II is scheduled for June 20-24. All will offer a low Thoroughbred hunter division, worth a total of $2,500 in prize money. The division will include a $500 under-saddle class and a pair of $1,000 over fences classes with 2-foot, 9-inch fences.

The shows also will host two Thoroughbred-only jumper classes worth $1,250 each, and the Skidmore Saratoga Classic series will offer a $2,500 Thoroughbred hunter classic event at each of its two shows.

The Garden State show, which takes place May 2-6 at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, Ga., will host a $4,000 jumper classic and $1,000 hunter classic for Thoroughbreds only, plus a $1,000 Thoroughbred bonus that will be awarded to Thoroughbreds who place in the money in the $5,000 Garden State Hunter Derby.

To be eligible for the TAKE2 events, Thoroughbreds must be registered with The Jockey Club. Proof of registration will be required at show entry.