The New York Racing Association (NYRA) hosted an inaugural “Thoroughbred Retirement Awareness Day” at Saratoga on Wednesday, August 18th, showcasing people and groups who have strived to ensure that thoroughbreds can enjoy a life beyond the racetrack, and don’t end up relegated to ignominious feedlots, on their way to slaughter or simply abandoned in someone’s backyard.
The day’s events debuted with an elegant on-track dressage demonstration by ESPN sports and racing correspondent, Jeannine Edwards, who confidently led her retired thoroughbred, the eight-year-old graded stakes-winning gelding Ashkal Way (IRE), through his choreographed musical freestyle routine. A winner of $798,349, the former Godolphin colorbearer was returning to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs: he won the Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap on the Saratoga turf course in 2006. Ms. Edwards adopted him in 2007, after Ashkal Way (IRE)’s retirement as a result of a tendon injury, and has retrained the strapping gelding to showcase his obvious athleticism in this new arena.
NYRA demonstrated its commitment to doing more than just talking about the need for thoroughbreds to have a dignified retirement when they leave the backstretch. It made $5000 contributions to three established thoroughbred charities–The Exceller Fund, Old Friends, and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF)–in a winners’ circle presentation after yesterday’s second race.
Named in honor of the superior turf runner and Racing Hall of Fame honoree, Exceller, who was murdered in a Swedish slaughterhouse in 1997, The Exceller Fund works to prevent other thoroughbreds from meeting the same fate. Funded primarily by monthly donations from a nationwide network of members, the all-volunteer organization rescues thoroughbreds in danger and ultimately places them in new permanent homes.
Originally founded by former Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen as a retirement and rescue facility for pensioned thoroughbreds, Old Friends came into national prominence in 2002, when the racing community learned that Kentucky Derby winner, Ferdinand, had been killed in a Japanese slaughterhouse after he, like Exceller, was deemed to have no further value at stud. Ferdinand’s cruel demise sharpened the focus of Old Friends, and in the intervening years, it has become the nation’s premier sanctuary for U.S.-raced thoroughbred stallions–whether they stood here or abroad–after their breeding days are over. Old Friends currently operates two facilities: one in Georgetown, Kentucky, and a newly christened “Bobby Frankel” division at Cabin Creek Farm in Greenfield Center, New York.
The oldest of the three groups is the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, founded in 1983, which operates several facilities for the rescue, care, rehabilitation, and retraining of more than 1200 thoroughbreds. To-date, it has placed more than 650 thoroughbreds in permanent adoptive homes.
After yesterday’s first race, Lorraine Roe of Racing to the Ring, a Florida-based organization formed to recognize and celebrate the success of thoroughbreds in the show ring, made two award presentations. The “Trainer’s Pledge Award” was presented to trainer Phil Serpe, who has secured homes for more than 100 thoroughbreds during his 24-year career as a thoroughbred conditioner.
“The Complete Circle Award” was presented by Ms. Roe to Lightnin’ Cat, a 19-year-old Overbrook Farm-bred son of Storm Cat who had won at Saratoga on August 3rd, 1994, but was subsequently retired after having shattered a knee in his last race. It took a year of stall rest, casting, and swimming, but Lightnin’ Cat was eventually nursed back to soundness, and in 1995 was adopted by Moira Roberts, who reports that the gelding is still winning ribbons on the show and hunter pace circuit.