Letter to the Editor: Ashley Eisenbeil, PHRA Marketing Director

The Pennsylvania Thoroughbred stakeholders are invested in educating others on the nuances of the equine industry. They are committed to the future of the industry and giving the next generation opportunities to learn about the possibilities a career working with these majestic animals has to offer. At PA Day at the Races, which was held Sept. 1 at Parx Racing, the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association (PHBA) showcased the best Thoroughbreds in PA to 4-H members from across the state. The event was coordinated by the State Horse Racing Commission and Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association (PHRA), in conjunction with Parx Racing, PHBA, Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (PTHA), Turning for Home, and other industry professionals. It included a tour of the backside of Parx racetrack, presentations from industry professionals, and the thrill of watching a live race named for 4-H. It concluded with a group picture taken with the winning jockey.

This was the first event of its kind at Parx Racing, and 4-H members responded with enthusiasm. Available spots were filled within 24 hours, and there was a wait list for additional members interested in attending. The day began with an introduction and warm welcome from the Pennsylvania Horse Breeder Association's Executive Secretary Brian Sanfratello and PHRA Marketing Director Ashley Eisenbeil. The 4-H's Andrea Kocher was also on hand and expressed how special an opportunity like this was, “The youth have a chance to learn about the equine industry as well as the Thoroughbred aspect of the industry, so this is a very unique experience.”

From there, the attendees got to learn all about Parx Racing's Turning for Home from program administrator Danielle Montgomery. Turning for Home, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which has provided over 2,300 retired racehorses with a safe environment. The program, created by Executive Director Mike Ballezzi and the PTHA, has revolutionized the model for horse racing retirement. The PTHA had the foresight to recognize the need within the industry to care for retired racehorses who would have otherwise faced an uncertain future. The 4-H members learned that being part of the horse racing industry means caring for their own, and ensuring the safety of these amazing animals before, during, and after their racing careers.

Kate DeMasi, first female Parx Hall of Fame trainer and member of the PTHA board, was on hand to educate 4-H youth on the organization and ways that the Pennsylvania horse racing industry is committed to caring for all of their Thoroughbreds. Dr. Tom Lurito provided an educational demonstration of how racehorses are microchipped and explained, “Eventually all of our horses will be microchipped, helping us to identify them in the paddock and coming in and out of the track.” Not only does microchipping aid in tracking horses while at a race, but it also helps in cases of disease outbreaks by allowing veterinarians to quickly identify any horses that were in attendance at an event, thus allowing for quicker treatment.

Continuing on the theme of horse safety, farrier John Homa gave a demonstration and explanation on the need for properly-fitted horseshoes. As he stated, a very popular expression on the track is “no feet, no horse.” Similar to humans, if a horse can't walk well, then it can't run well. Therefore, it is crucial that horses are properly fitted for shoes to maintain their health and safety on the track.”

Veterinarian Dr. Art Stitzer from Thoroughbred Veterinary Services was also on hand to give the 4-H members information on the role a vet plays in the safety and welfare of the Thoroughbreds throughout their lives.

After the morning events, the members were given an amazing opportunity to attend a presentation by Hall of Fame jockey Tony Black who discussed his career and the equipment used by jockeys. Black's 43-year career includes 5,218 winners in an incredible 33,876 rides. Meeting this inspiring jockey was a highlight of the day as he is a legend in the horse racing industry with a highly celebrated career.

The event concluded with the 4-H members watching a thrilling live race and having a group photo taken with jockey Mychel J. Sanchez. After all the excitement of the day, the members and their families were free to enjoy the rest of the race day at Parx Racing.

The goal of this event was to “give an inside look at what happens on the backstretch here at Parx Racing, educate 4-H members, and hopefully start growing the industry with future trainers, jockeys, veterinarians and owners. Judging by the success of PA Day at the Races, it seems the future of horse racing is in good hands.

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