SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The horse racing industry already contributes funds to the care of thoroughbreds after they retire, but the people tasked with preparing horses for life after racing say it’s not enough.
“We breed 20,000 a year, so if we don’t fund the exit plan, we can’t control the arteries from bleeding out,” said Stacie Clark, operations consultant for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), which has accredited 64 aftercare organizations in North America since it was founded in 2012.
She was speaking at a New York State Gaming Commission meeting on the issue of retired racehorses Tuesday at Empire State College on West Avenue. Several aftercare organizations were represented.
“The industry asked it to be built,” she said of TAA, which has awarded $5.7 million in grants to aftercare groups since 2013. “It’s built. It works. And now we need the money.”
Rick Shosberg, director of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association’s aftercare committee, agreed that the industry should be giving more to aftercare: three or four times the amount of funding it’s currently providing. But he also suggested a non-industry funding source — the fans.
“On every big racing day, for every racetrack … have a percentage of the admission fee go directly to TAA, and you know the people would do it,” he said, naming as examples the Kentucky Derby, the Breeders’ Cup and the Belmont Stakes. “Get the fans involved, because they love that stuff.”
The state Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the New York Racing Association each donate $5 to the TAA for every horse that starts each race at the state’s three racetracks, including Saratoga Race Course. That amounts to about $200,000 per year, according to the TAA.
Shosberg said taking $5 from every ticket sold on major races would add up quickly.
“You’ll generate millions before you know it,” he said. “It’s not nickel-and-diming it.”
To make the case for more funding, said state gaming Commissioner Peter Moschetti, “You need to convince them why.”
With that in mind, state gaming officials in 2015 sought to track down all New York thoroughbreds that raced between 2010 and 2012. They were only able to identify 1,871 out of the 3,894 horses that raced during those years, or about 48 percent.
“We will continue to try to locate these New York thoroughbred horses; however, the fact that in two years we have only found about half of the horses speaks volumes about the challenges of just how many retired race horses there are out there,” said Ron Ochrym, acting executive director of the Gaming Commission.
Of the horses identified, 604 were retired to breeding, 422 went on to have second careers, 327 were “simply retired,” 155 were adopted and four were retired to stud, he said.
Of the 2,023 thoroughbreds that could not be located, 58 ran their last races at Saratoga.
Diane Pikulski, of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, said a new industrywide mandate to have horses injected with microchips will help keep track of horses after they retire. The requirement affects foals born this year and later, according to The Jockey Club, the international record-keeper for horse racing.
“Especially if, at the same time, they regulate at what points the horses would be scanned,” she said."The best thing would be that no horse can cross the border that’s not supposed to. It would be one thing if you’ve got a nice person in Canada or Mexico buying a horse — well sure, they can cross with their horse — but if you’ve got a truckload of horses that are headed to slaughter, all those horses need to be stopped.”
Shosberg said it could be a matter of better regulating a system that’s already in place.
“Maybe change the sheets at the sign-out gate,” he said. “Give a little more room to write stuff. There's a tiny little box. Where’s the horse going? Who’s taking it?”
He added, “And make sure that each sheet that gets done automatically gets put into a database. Don’t wait until the end of the day.”