10/17/2012 1:18PM

Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit: More funds needed for retirement programs, says aftercare group executive


LEXINGTON , Ky. – Despite new funding commitments from a wide swath of racing organizations, the racing industry will need to continue to raise money from new organizations and individuals in order to provide adequate funding for accredited retirement programs, officials involved in the effort said on Wednesday at the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit at Keeneland.

Although the racing industry has rapidly identified new funding sources for retirement programs over the past two years, the effort will remain under-funded until more racing participants are contributing, said Mike Ziegler, the executive director of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, the organization that was launched last year to accredit retirement organizations and raise and distribute contributions.

As a result, the TAA will expand its effort to secure pledges for funding to breeding farms outside of Kentucky, where 13 farms have pledged to provide annual contributions based on stud fees to the TAA, Ziegler said. Also as part of that announcement last week, the TAA said that the Jockey Club had agreed to raise its rates on most registry activities, with the additional funds contributed to the TAA, and that sales companies and some racetracks had also pledged annual contributions.

“We can’t stop where we are right now,” Ziegler said. “We need to talk to stallion owners and breeders in other states. We need to hit all those touch points in a horse’s life. It’s like that saying, ‘Many hands make light work.’ ”

The funding sources announced last week are expected to raise approximately $4 million in additional funds directed toward retirement efforts. The TAA will direct those contributions to retirement and adoption programs that have been accredited under the guidelines it adopted earlier this year.

Among the panoply of critical issues currently confronting the racing industry, the care of retired horses has emerged as one of the most pressing. The animal-rights movement has rapidly gained strength over the past decade, and with greyhound racing nearly wiped out, many participants in the movement have turned their sights on horse racing.

At the same time, scores of retirement programs have been launched by individuals and organizations over the past years, and all have hustled to obtain a share of the funds being directed to retirement programs.

Representatives of several of those organizations gave presentations on Wednesday morning at the summit, which is being held for the fourth time in the last six years.

Steuart Pittman, the founder of Retired Racehorse Challenge, said that his organization is dedicated to marketing retired racehorses in order to increase demand for the breed among those that are seeking sport horses like hunters and jumpers. Pittman said that the Thoroughbred once dominated those disciplines, but they have been largely pushed aside in the sporting world in favor of Warmbloods and Irish sport horse breeds, whose breed associations have marketing programs to push the horses.

“I would like to get the world back to where it was, when you could sell a horse off the track for $5,000,” Pittman said. “That meant you might as well sell them rather than running them in that last claiming race” and risking an injury.

His efforts dovetail with a program launched this year by the Jockey Club called the Thoroughbred Incentive Program. The program created awards and class distinctions at horse shows for retired Thoroughbreds. Kristin Werner Leshney, the director of the program, said that during 2012, 100 horse shows featured the classes or awards.

“The good news is that we’ve been approved for 2013,” Leshney said. “Overall we feel the program has been a huge success, especially for its first year.”