Breeders’ Cup Auction Benefits Special Ops

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By T. D. Thornton

A charity auction package that will allow six people to experience the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at a luxury level has recently opened for bidding, with proceeds benefitting a program that promotes healing and wellness among wounded Special Operations forces in the United States military.

Highlights of the Breeders’ Cup charity bonanza, which has an estimated value of $50,000, include Club-level tables for six for both Nov. 3 and 4 at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and a dinner for the winning bidder’s entire party hosted by Hall-of-Fame jockey Mike Smith at the iconic Mille Fleurs Restaurant for the Wednesday before the championships.

Gary Markel, a Clearwater, Florida-based racehorse owner, is both the president of the non-profit Operation Healing Forces (OHF) and the organizer of the Breeders’ Cup package.

Full auction details are listed here. Bidding as of deadline for this article was $25,500, and will remain open through 3:10 p.m. (Eastern) Oct. 24.

The mission of OHF is to serve active-duty and recent-veteran wounded/ill/injured Special Operations forces by starting the processes of mental, physical, and emotional healing in preparation for either a return to combat or a successful transition back into civilian life.

Markel explained that the idea behind OHF is to bring wounded special-ops soldiers and their spouses together in retreat-style getaways where four or five couples with like-minded experiences can come together to facilitate recovery.

“It’s a bonding and healing process, and we’ve gotten fabulous feedback on it,” Markel said. “We do it this way because these men and women will not open up to counselors or therapists. But all of the people that work with me are [experienced in] special ops and have been involved in numerous deployments, so they can relate to the couples that we have at these retreats.

“Participants all have two things in common,” Markel continued. “All of them are special ops–most of them are still active, but we have some veterans. And all of them are wounded–mentally, physically or both. All of them have post-traumatic stress disorder, and some of them have missing limbs. These men and women are overlooked. All of our soldiers are fabulous, but the special ops people are just over and above.”

Markel said OHF is unique because he and his brother, Anthony, fund all of the organization’s administrative and fundraising costs themselves, so 100% of donations to OHF are dedicated for direct charity uses.

Markel said his involvement in the Thoroughbred business over the years got him friendly with jockey Smith, who has graciously agreed to host the dinner for the winning bidders.

“I own and have owned Thoroughbreds–it’s not for the faint of wallet as you know,” Markel joked. “Unfortunately, my Thoroughbreds are pretty but slow, which makes them ‘pretty slow.'”

The complete auction package is listed below. Markel said that aside from OHF’s purchasing of the Breeders’ Cup tables and the hotel stays, everything else has been donated.

  • One Club Level table for six for Friday, Nov. 3 and Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar.
  • Dinner (food & non-alcoholic drinks included) with Mike Smith at Mille Fleurs Restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe.(voted Top 25 in the U.S. by Food & Wine magazine) Wednesday, Nov. 1.
  • A five-night stay (in three separate rooms) at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe from Oct. 31 through Nov. 5.
  • Surprise tour in San Diego Wednesday, Nov. 1.
  • Lunch at the four-star Hotel del Coronado in San Diego Wednesday, Nov. 1.
  • Golf and lunch at the Del Mar Country Club on Thursday, Nov. 2.
  • SUV car rental from Oct. 31 through Nov. 5.

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