SARATOGA SPRINGS — One of the new faces of the Thoroughbred Racing Foundation in Saratoga greeted another of the new faces of TRF in rude fashion last week.
Dusk to Dawn let out a huffing sneeze and launched a fan of spray in the direction of his friend.
Kim Weir could only scrunch her nose and laugh.
Dusk to Dawn is one of five retired thoroughbred racehorses in town from Wallkill Correctional Facility as TRF ambassadors for the duration of the Saratoga Race Course meet.
Weir is in town by way of Washington, D.C., having moved here with her husband Bobby recently because, well … the town and racetrack were irresistible to them.
She is the TRF’s newly hired Director of Major Gifts and Planned Giving, which means she has been a visible presence everywhere from the backstretch to TRF events while drumming up support for a 35-year-old organization that manages a herd of 750 horses at 18 farms all over the country.
The TRF is headquartered in Saratoga, but none of their horses are here, so this summer the TRF has temporarily relocated five retirees to the Heading for Home farm at 683 Rte. 29 east of downtown, with an “open barn” time from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. every Tuesday of the meet so the public can meet them and get a feel for why the TRF’s work is so important.
“The objective is to connect the dots for fans, friends of the TRF and, frankly, complete strangers who don’t know anything about us,” Weir said. “It makes our whole jobs infinitely easier. When you see them — and these guys all have racing careers — they tell the story.
“It’s a way we can get the word out and show how happy and healthy these horses can be — and ours are, with support. They’re just there to meet, greet and eat carrots, and they’re doing that very well.”
The Wallkill prison horses are part of a program called Second Chances, in which inmates care for and interact with the horses as a means of rehabilitating both the prisoners and the horses.
Besides the open barn availibility on Tuesday, private visits to Heading for Home to meet the TRF horses can be arranged.
Besides Dusk to Dawn, a 7-year-old gelding who was winless in eight career starts, the roster includes Son of a Gun, Cogs My Man, Blown Save and Bold Mon.
They’re all sweet-tempered geldings who welcome nose rubs and treats from visitors big and small.
“The mission of the TRF since 1983, our purpose, has been to save thoroughbred horses who are no longer able to compete on the race course from possible neglect, abuse or slaughter,” Weir said. “We’ve saved thousands of horses over these 35 years.”
They would like to save many more.
Off-the-track thoroughbred organizations like New Vocations and ReRun are looking for horses who can be re-trained to a post-racing athletic career, either as pleasure horses or for eventing.
The TRF is simply trying to provide safe and comfortable homes for horses who don’t have that potential, because of age or the aftereffect of old injuries.
“We have 50 horses at Wallkill, and we brought these up because they were the most sound and have the most potential for a second career,” Weir said. “Our horses generally don’t have an athletic second career in their future, but they might be sound enough to be a walk-trot trail horse, and there is a chance they might be adopted out.”
Weir is using a three-pronged approach to her new job.
She wants to meet past donors and thank them for their support, and her second mission is to hit the refresh button on the TRF’s presence by circulating throughout the backstretch, acquainting herself with horsemen and reminding them that the retirement component of this sport never goes away and needs constant attention.
“One of the funny challenges of being 35 years old is everybody thinks they know you, and it’s true, but it’s a chance for me to say, ‘I’m the new face, and let me tell you the story of the TRF today, our herd size, where they are, Second Chances …’” she said.
“My objective is to identify the successful retirement stories that they know, that they personally participated in, that owners of theirs participated in, exercise riders, grooms. TRF would really like to tell those stories. I have a motto, I want to celebrate and inspire doing the right thing. We don’t expect to be the solution for all the retired racehorses, but we know that if everyone does a little bit, this rising tide will raise all ships.”
The third objective is to touch base with the myriad new owners who in recent years have made partnerships a big part of the racing landscape.
“Just get aftercare on the minds of the new owners,” Weir said.
As far as the “major gifts” part of Weir’s title, she would like to find benefactors willing to step it up from a donation standpoint.
She and her husband have been moderate donors for years, which is the lifeblood of the TRF, but they won’t be able to expand their herd without some a quantum leap in funds.
“It’s amazing, the grassroots support for TRF,” she said. “However, for us to maybe look at the future in maybe a healthy and sustainable way, but more importantly, with any glimmer of expansion, we have to be looking for more strategic benefactors and gifts that are more sizeable to a leadership level.
“That’s where my role was created, to focus on those transformative gifts that could enable us to expand our herd.”
Weir grew up in San Diego and drove her horse Goober cross country after enrolling at the University of Virginia and becoming a member of the school’s equestrian team.
Her first exposure to a thoroughbred racehorse was feeding carrots to the great John Henry back home at Del Mar, and she and her future husband had their first date at Laurel Park in Maryland.
Now they’re living blocks from their favorite track, and Kim Weir gets to visit her pals out on Rte. 29, with a job and a higher purpose of making life better for retired thoroughbreds like thm.
“How do I like it? I don’t like it, I love it,” she said. “It is a dream come true, and as cheesy as that may sound, I’m not afraid of sounding like a cheeseball, because we are amazed that this has happened.”
The Grade I A.P. Smithwick, scheduled for Thursday’s first race, was canceled because of the wet track condition.
The steeplechase has been rescheduled for the first race on Monday’s card, with a post time of 1 p.m.
Weekend Hideaway missed the John Morrissey last year at Saratoga Race Course when he kicked himself and got an infection.
That may not seem like a big deal for some horses, but when you’re a 7-year-old, you’re on the far end of your career and may not have many starts left.
Back as an 8-year-old and just as good as ever, he won the John Morrissey by 1 ¼ lengths over Eye Luv Lulu on Thursday, surviving a trainer’s objection for interference late in the race.
“Those kind of things can go either way,” trainer Phil Serpe said. “We’ve seen good calls and calls we felt weren’t so good.
“I’m glad they left him up, because I just don’t have enough money to pay the fine,” he joked with a grin. “But I’d be cursing out every one of those stewards for taking this 8-year-old horse down from a race he deserved to win.”
Weekend Hideaway holds a special place for Serpe, who raced his dam, Apocalyptical, and was involved in Weekend Hideaway’s breeding through Carl Lizza’s Flying Zee Stables.
When Lizza died in 2011 and his horses were dispersed, Serpe continued to be the trainer for Red and Black Stable.
The John Morrissey was Weekend Hideaway’s 13th career win in 48 starts.
“He was supposed to be running in this race last year, and unfortunately he grabbed his quarter, it abscessed and we didn’t even realize it until the morning of the race,” Serpe said. “He was fine the day before. It really killed me not to be able to see him run this race, because I really felt like he was in position to win.”
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
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