By Diana Pikulski
Based in Puerto Rico, the mission of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare Inc. (CTA), is rehabilitation, retraining, retirement, and adoption for Thoroughbreds in the Caribbean. The organization recently posted on its Facebook page images of the three Thoroughbreds they most recently accepted from Hippodrome Camarero, the Thoroughbred track in Puerto Rico. All three, Salary Cap (Street Boss), Too Fast For Love (Harlington), or Keep Me Grounded (First Samurai) will need rehabilitation and have only a chance at being sound for trail or light riding. Since December, CTA has been looking for a home for Afleet Accompli (Afleet Alex) who ran 63 times and earned close to $200,000. Like Too Fast For Love and Keep Me Gounded, who ran 45 and 42 times, respectively, are what CTA Executive Director Kelley Stobie calls 'war horses'.
Afleet Accompli was brought to the attention of CTA by a race fan on the mainland who tries to keep track of all of Afleet Alex's offspring. Before COVID-19, there was a chance that Afleet Accompli would be going to Old Friends, however, that opportunity is now in question. A lifetime sanctuary for the hundreds of imported Thoroughbreds that must retire every year from Camarero does not currently exist on Puerto Rico, or on the mainland.
“80% of the horses that we are asked to take are imports,” said Stobie. “And it is rare that we get an imported horse that is sound for athletic or competitive riding careers. It breaks my heart. These are war horses and they are worn out. There are very limited homes here for a happy pasture sound or trail-riding horse.”
CTA is accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) and receives an annual grant from the organization. Stobie has also worked out a small institutionalized funding program with the racetrack and the local breeders. But keeping horses in Puerto Rico is more difficult and more expensive than what it is on the mainland and the cost of shipping a horse back to the mainland including quarantine, flight and paperwork is $3,294 per horse. So, Stobie and CTA are often faced with the reality of having to euthanize pasture sound horses.
CTA often makes happy headlines when, with the help of sponsors, they are able to ship high-profile “war horses' back to the U.S. and find placement for them. One such horse was Immortal Wink (Gimmeawink), who raced 142 times before retiring four years ago at age 10 and now resides in Florida at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation facility at the Lowell Correctional Facility farm for women. Currently, the breeders of Keep Me Grounded are working on getting him back to Kentucky to retire into a similar program.
“It is great when the breeders or former owners step up and help us to get a horse back to the mainland for retirement,” said Stobie. “For some horses, the trip back and quarantine are hard. That is why we feel a sanctuary on Puerto Rico as well as a program and funding to return more horses are necessary. Horses continue to be imported, but there is no plan for a return ticket for their retirement.”
The unregulated transport of racehorses to Puerto Rico has recently been in the news. The Horse Racing Confederation of Puerto Rico is involved in litigation over the death of nine horses who died in 2019 when being shipped by boat from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan.
On Jan. 25, 2018, Stobie and co-founder Shelley Blodgett were awarded a special Eclipse award recognizing their heroism, bravery, and benevolence in the face of tragedy for their Hurricane Maria efforts. One might be hard-pressed to find two more competent, savvy and hard-working people in the Thoroughbred rescue world.
In their work, every day takes heroism. Every day they face the pressure of more horses coming their way than they have the room or the funds to care for as well as the added pressure of having to raise funds to ship horses back to the mainland.
“It costs us upward of $50,000 a year to ship the horses who can withstand the journey and additional quarantine time to adoptive homes and other accredited agencies on the mainland that have room,” said Stobie. “As the news of the storms slowed down, so did our donations. But horses continue to be imported to Puerto Rico to race and then they are forgotten. We are on a mission to make sure that a plan gets put in place so that all Thoroughbreds in Puerto Rico receive the retirement that they deserve.”
It is hurricane season again and CTA has taken steps to weather any bad storms.
“We are able to take our horses to a friend's farm that is on high ground and we have a new container to store hay and feed,” said Stobie. “We also work closely with Dr. Ricardo Loinaz at the racetrack clinic and we can rely on him for help with veterinary care and supplies. We are all better prepared than we were in years past.”
To learn more about Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare, go to https://www.ctahorse.com/