If We Open It, Will They Come?

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Michelle Dunn photo

The scope and pace of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected daily life, the national economy, and by extension, the Thoroughbred racing business, is dizzying. For so many, the hardest aspect of the pandemic-induced crisis is the uncertainty about if and when things will go back to the old normal. The pandemic is like nothing we have experienced before and therefore, we have no models on which to rely. With the delayed opening of most racetracks, and with others having no opening day in sight, many people are asking if owners and trainers who are struggling financially are able to maintain horses that are not earning money. A May 1 article in The Boston Globe ran with the headline, “Closed racetracks are leaving many Thoroughbreds with nowhere to go.”

This raised the concern of board members at the Secretariat Center, which is located in the Kentucky Horse Park. They chose to take action and be prepared with a positive response to the question of whether racehorses in need would have a place to go if their owners could not afford to care for them. The We Are Here Initiative is a partnership between the Secretariat Center and the Kentucky Horse Park. The newly formed non-profit is accepting racehorses whose future careers in racing are not viable due to circumstances brought on or hastened by the COVID-19 economic crisis. No donation to surrender will be required.

“I’ve seen the industry go through tough times over the years but this is a unique situation. There are people in the business who are having trouble making ends meet and for whom holding on to horses that will not likely be competitive again may be too much of a burden,” said Secretariat Center President Dorothy Crowell, who spearheaded the new effort. “We created the We Are Here Initiative because we want to make the right decision easy.”

We Are Here, with the help of commercial van companies, will provide transportation to the Kentucky Horse Park where stalls and paddocks await. The Kentucky Horse Park has made available its many empty showing barns for the surrendered horses. With help from donors such Hallway Feeds, Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, Park Equine, Hagyard Equine Medical Institute and Big Dee’s, the group will evaluate the horses and care for them until a spot opens up with a Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance accredited aftercare organization.

To facilitate easy surrender of the horses, a hotline has been established. Thoroughbred owners and trainers needing to rehome their horses can contact the We Are Here hotline at 833-924-6882 (833-WAH-OTTB), which will provide information regarding the initial steps to be taken. Horses must be registered Thoroughbreds trained by a licensed trainer in the United States. Eligible horses much be located at a U.S. licensed racetrack or training facility, or verified to be eligible for the 2020 racing season; and horses will need a current Coggins and health certificate.

“When I got the call from Dorothy, I knew it was something with which I had to help,” said Louise Riggio, horse owner and former Secretariat Center board member. “We cannot leave any doubt about the fact that the industry is prepared and ready to care for any racehorse that needs us because of the pandemic.”

Eric Hamelback, Executive Director of We Are Here Initiative and CEO of The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), said, “Horsemen and horsewomen are inherently resilient and supportive of each other in tough times. We all believe our industry will survive the crisis we are currently under, but we recognize these are threatening times in horse racing, not only financially, but in other ways that affect our day to day lives. Most importantly, through this initiative we hope all horsemen and horsewomen know and understand, We Are Here is there to support them. It is our hope that industry participants on all levels will donate to the care of these horses to the best of their ability.”

For more information about the We Are Here Initiative, to donate, or to learn more about surrendering Thoroughbreds in your care, please visit www.wahi.info. To contact the We Are Here Hotline, please dial 833-WAH-OTTB (833-924-6882).

Diana Pikulski is the editor of the Thoroughbred Adoption Network.

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