Dear industry: Want a model to ensure Thoroughbred horses find suitable second careers? Quickly, efficiently, intelligently, realistically? Sure you do.
Dear jump racing: Want a way to create new participants in your game while at the same time raising your profile in terms of public relations, horse welfare and connections to the larger Thoroughbred industry of which you’re a part? Of course you do.
Dear flat racing: Want an outlet for your horses? Where there’s little additional cost to you? Where the worst thing you end up with is a freshened racehorse? Yes, you do.
So make the following business model happen:
Jump people, contribute a sizable donation to the Retired Racehorse Training Project and launch a steeplechase division to the successful second-career training program headed by Marylander Steuart Pittman. There’s your credibility and your instant connection to new people.
Next, have the RRTP create a steeplechase assessment network connected to area racetracks so if you’re stabled at Bowie Training Center and you have a horse that’s not producing and otherwise out of options, you make a call. Somebody comes to look at your horse, and if the first evaluation goes OK, your horse goes to a farm for some early training. The day rate is the same, or less, to your owner. Your horse gets turned out, let down, then played with in a show ring, over some cross rails. He walks up and down hills. She learns to go right-handed, and discovers muscles she didn’t know she had.
If he shows any ability, the horsemen at that farm will know in a month (maybe less). At the end of that month, you get a report and a recommendation–yes, no, maybe–on a steeplechase career.
The next step is up to you. Take your horse home and go back to running on the flat. Leave your horse at the barn, or choose a trainer from a list, and embark on a career in jump racing (good news, he’s a maiden again). Or, put your horse on the market. Steeplechase owners and trainers are always looking for prospects and in a short time this could be a marketplace.
The best part about the above scenario is we know it works. Informally, this already happens with trainers like Bruce Fenwick (featured in this magazine), Jack Fisher, Richard Valentine, Jonathan Sheppard, Janet Elliot, Alicia Murphy and others in the region. Yet, horses fall through the cracks and never get seen, never get evaluated, never get the chance to get out of flat racing while they can.
Fenwick’s top timber horse, Foyle, nearly didn’t make it out of flat racing alive. Now he’s a stakes winner, a productive part of a stable, one of the best in the world at what he does. If Fenwick doesn’t get a tip about him, Foyle is probably dead today (sorry if that sounds harsh). You could say the same thing about any number of steeplechasers out there, especially timber horses–the ultimate too-slow-for-flat-racing animals.
Formalizing a program, rather than leaving it to chance, to individuals, to a market with loads of other factors, helps everybody. The industry gets another decent step in horse welfare, providing Thoroughbreds with an outlet beyond the track.
Owners and trainers get a chance to extend their horses’ careers. Horses get one more layer of insulation between the track and oblivion. RRTP gets an introduction to more allies, and a potential new job for horses that don’t necessarily figure to be show, event, dressage or pleasure prospects.
And face it, there ought to be a better, truer, more seamless path between flat racing and jump racing. They’re part of the same industry. And it’s time they started acting more like it.