Striving to “take down the barrier” between backstretch horsemen and the horse-buying public, Emerald Downs recently announced three new initiatives designed to help transition ex-racehorses into new homes.
Sophia McKee, director of marketing for the Washington racetrack, says the track is working earnestly on plans for a Thoroughbred Showcase, a horseshow, and a Trainer Challenge in order to spark interest among Thoroughbred lovers, and to encourage other racetracks to follow their lead.
“I’d like to put together a program that could be adopted by every racetrack in the country,” McKee says. “One thing about the people at Emerald Downs is that they believe in doing what’s right for the sake of doing what’s right, not because they think someone’s watching.”
But, track officials hope, in this case, to attract a whole lot of attention to the track this August, when the following series gets underway.
On Aug. 31, beginning at 10 a.m., those off-track Thoroughbreds available for sale will be paraded in-hand at the Emerald Downs Sale’s Pavilion, accompanied by their owners and trainers.
The horse’s connections will answer any and all questions about the animal, including temperament, injuries, and suitability for varied disciplines, McKee says.
“We’re anticipating about 30 horses will be available, and the track will make its veterinarian available to discuss common injuries in racehorses, such as ligament issues and bone chips,” she adds.
Concurrent to the Thoroughbred Showcase, Emerald Downs track announcer Robert Geller will give a talk about the Thoroughbred breed.
Thoroughbred Only Show
On Oct. 5, the weekend after the racetrack closes for the season, the main track will be transformed into a stage for English and Western riding and showing, and for an unusual competition that rewards the OTTB with the slowest canter!
“If your horse passes another horse, you’re out!” McKee says.
Baby hunter and baby jumper classes and a dressage-prospect class will also be incorporated.
100-day trainer challenge
Taking a page from ex-racehorse trainer Steuart Pittman, who has had great success publicizing the remaking of off-track Thoroughbreds as riding horses through his closely followed Trainer Challenges, Emerald Downs seeks to follow suit.
“Starting in June and culminating on Oct. 5, our 1oo-day challenge will combine Steuart Pittman’s successful program and the Extreme Mustang Makeover, which retrains wild mustangs in 100 days,” McKee says. Toward that end, Thoroughbreds will be trained for in-hand classes and flat classes, and also, just for a little bit of fun in a Freestyle class similar to what the Mustangs did in their shows, she says.
“With the Freestyle portion of the Mustang Makeovers, trainers taught their horses to jump into the back of trucks, chase cows, or work without a bridle,” McKee says. “So we’re hoping that the trainers participating in our challenge will incorporate something from their own background, whether it’s trail riding or hunter/jumper, into their own Freestyle.”
The track’s desire to do more for its equine athletes through shows and challenges is born from a deeper commitment that sprung from their loyalty to a flashy chestnut who finished in the money fifty percent of the time. Prodigious earned over $200,000 at various tracks, including Emerald Downs, before he dropped down to the $3,500 claimers at age 10.
Emerald Downs’ Vice President of Racing Jack Hodge adopted the animal, and keeps him in a prime front paddock on his property, where he spends his days greeting visitors.
And a fund in his name, The Prodigious Fund, has been established to recognize and support the Thoroughbred aftercare community, McKee says. Not just available to certified nonprofits, this fund helps “the good people doing good work for Thoroughbreds,” she adds.
And with loyalty and commitment to its equine athletes, the good work finds its reward, as these lovely and deserving Thoroughbreds come to the track to receive their salvation—a kind new owner, a home where they’re wanted, and a future employed in an easier calling.