By T. D. Thornton
The bar is set high for the 11th annual New Vocations Breeders' Cup pledge drive. Last year's fundraiser for the nation's largest retired racehorse rehabilitation and placement program netted $130,000 from owners and trainers of Breeders' Cup entrants. The exclamation point on that record amount was provided by Vino Rosso (Curlin) winning the GI Classic, because the colt's two ownership partners–St. Elias Stable and Repole Stable–plus trainer Todd Pletcher, all pledged their support.
Over the last decade New Vocations has raised $650,000 with its annual Breeders' Cup funding drive, which asks the connections of entrants to voluntarily pledge from one-half of 1% to 10% of purse earnings over the two-day championships. This model is unique because it has zero overhead costs, so 100% of the money raised goes straight to aftercare efforts.
But the industry's need for New Vocations' non-profit services grows each year, and re-homing equine athletes got quite a bit more challenging in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A click right here will take you straight to the online pledging page.
St. Elias Stable is the racing operation of Vincent Viola, the founder and executive chairman of the electronic trading firm Virtu Financial and former chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange. He graduated from West Point Academy and served in the U.S. Army Reserves. Viola also owns the NHL's Florida Panthers.
“After meeting the principals at New Vocations, we just felt very, very comfortable that they put the horse before themselves, quite frankly,” Viola told TDN. “They'll find the right second career for a horse [according to its] disposition. They go the extra mile, and we've been trying to support them consistently ever since. That pledge is one of the things you can do in our great sport where you know you are providing a substantial return on investment.”
Repole Stable is owned by Mike Repole, who parlayed a zeal for playing the ponies at Aqueduct as a teenager into becoming a high-profile Thoroughbred owner after selling his company Glaceau, maker of Vitaminwater and Smartwater, to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion in May 2007.
“Usually I'm not vocal about my charity giving. I like to give behind the scenes,” Repole said. “But I think being an owner, and probably one of the biggest-spending owners in the country, I want to make sure that people know that people like Vinnie Viola and people like Mike Repole are firm believers in making sure our horses get great homes post-racing. So I do think that owners need to take more responsibility.
“Sometimes it just surprises me how owners are willing to pay $500,000 for a horse but are not willing to make a $10,000 donation to an agency that makes sure their horses eventually get a proper home and the proper care that they truly deserve,” Repole continued. “I get disappointed when I hear that owners haven't stepped up.”
Pletcher's support for New Vocations as a trainer also goes far back.
“First and foremost, it's paramount that we take care of horses not only during their racing careers, but, just as importantly, after their racing careers are over,” Pletcher said. “The Repoles and the Violas understand how important aftercare is. [With Vino Rosso] those are the situations you love to be in. When you get to win a race of the magnitude of the Breeders' Cup Classic, you're more than happy to make those contributions.”
Although the concept of aftercare has progressed markedly since the first New Vocations Breeders' Cup pledge drive in 2009, Viola underscored there is still more that needs to be done to help Thoroughbreds on a longer-term arc.
“We have come a good way in a short amount of time with aftercare,” Viola said. “But we have to be much, much better than we are. For the sportsmen and women who participate, I consider it a fundamental responsibility to make sure those equine athletes live out a natural life. I won't be satisfied until we're monitoring and watching the natural lifespans of the entire foal crop every year.”
Repole is not only a New Vocations donor. He's watched some of his own horses go through and benefit from the program, and he added that the payback in terms of good karma endures long after those Thoroughbreds left his stable.
“It's great to get the updates and photos of where my horses have been,” Repole said. “It makes me feel really, really good to know that my horse that won at both Belmont and Gulfstream is now a jumping horse in Pennsylvania for some smiling 13-year-old girl.
“It feels like a win when you get a report like that,” Repole continued. “Maybe not like a Breeders' Cup Classic win with Vino Rosso. But a definite, good win that makes you feel really happy–and it didn't come with any anxiety or stress of a big race.”