Emerald Downs launches OTTB initiative

Sophia McKee, director of marketing, Emerald Downs

Sophia McKee, director of marketing, Emerald Downs

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.

Thoroughbred Showcase

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.

Prodigious, a high-earning racehorse, for whom a new fund is named

Prodigious, a high-earning racehorse, for whom a new fund is named

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.

Seattle Shoofly visits with a young fan. Emerald Downs offers full-service daycare to its employees

Seattle Shoofly visits with a young fan. Emerald Downs offers full-service daycare to its employees

“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.


35 responses to “Emerald Downs launches OTTB initiative”

  1. Sarah Posey: Thoroughbred Exhibitors Association (TBEA)

    The warmblood breed associations have inspections and grade the mares on conformation and movement, many TB mares are accepted.

    TBEA was established in Oregon in 1978 and our rules read…must show under their papered name …just like any other breed does in breed shows. We at TBEA believe in the versatility of the TB horse and also their ability to improve other breeds.

    TB’s aren’t for everyone, but those who have the appreciation for their sensitivity and willingness love them with their whole heart!

    We have classes for Tb and 1/2 TB’s which must have one purebred TB parent.There is also a hardship registry for horses of lost identity, rescues, etc.

    Classes range from Halter, English, Jumping, Western, Trail,Gymkhana,Driving, Eventing, Endurance and special awards for Region 6 ODS league shows in Dressage.


    […] found this story on OFF TRACK THOROUGHBREDS.  Do you read this blog?  it is a good one.  Here is the […]

  3. Kari Toye

    Through the last 35+ years of my career I know of so many of my horses that have gone on to great homes and great careers. I think its great that we finally focusing on a division that will give them greater regognition. I wish though, that there was a better acronym than the OTTB as many a horse might not have made it to to track. I can live with that, but I do also wish the showhorse world had some was to way to acknowledge the breed of the horse perhaps as we do for foreign bred horses : (AUS) (GB) (FR) and that a registered horse gets his new name but we should refer to the registered name. If that horse is a thoroughbred,,,,he should be AKA or something along that line. Keep up the good work, canter on…

    I might also add to your ideas for the future that we add some 1/2 thoroughbred classes. This has been a saving grace for lots of our mares that have contributed to enhancing other breeds. Its a very important fact that many breeds accept the Thoroughbred mare to cross with and still be a registered animal. There are alot of AQHA,APHA,ApHA,PtHA etc etc horses out there that owe their genes to the Thoroughbred that need recognition.

  4. Martha

    Oh Sophia, bless your heart and bunches of roses to you for your planning and hard work on these programs to promote the after track
    life of the Thoroughbreds, most especially the ex-racers. This is wonderful and I wish you all the success possible in showcasing the versatility of these beautiful, deserving horses.

  5. Sarah Posey: Thoroughbred Exhibitors Association (TBEA)

    TBEA was founded in Oregon in 1978, we are not limited to OR but have held competitions and fun events since the beginning, Thoroughbreds can do it all!
    One of the horses I show is a former OR stakes horse who also just missed winning the Emerald Express Stakes finishing 3rd.

    Some of our members are currently licensed trainers in WA and OR (track) we also require they show under their papered names so their track heritage is not lost.

    Please feel free to contact me for more information. We have held our year end awards at PM a couple of times and offered too participate in equine promotions with no response to help promote the OTTB. Thank you Emerald Down and those of you who are helping!

    Sarah Posey

  6. Marion

    I’m so impressed with Sophia and all the hard work she is doing for these useful horses. Nothing against the warmblood hunters and jumpers but nothing will ever top the smart, quick learning Thoroughbred. They are keen, if you think it they are ready to do it. Once they have raced or did not work out as a race horse they still can have a very bright future do anything. I applaud you for putting yourself and this great idea out there. Marion

  7. Nina Eckhoff

    And after working so hard in the dangerous business of racing, OTTBs must be redirected for life after the track. It is the only ethical thing to do. Emerald Downs and other OTTB-centric organizations are doing great things and it brings tears to my eyes, because our girl (Princess Madeline) went through New Holland and wasn’t bought when she went through Camelot Auction, either. She was in the #10 pen and we got her for $200 just to save her. But I think she saved us.

    Maddie has spent time with a natural horseman, Billy Smith (Thurman, NY) and it has done wonders for her in her retraining. She had some chiropractic issues which have been addressed and she has herded cattle, been ridden on trail rides through the wilderness of the Adirondacks (where hunters are present and she proceeded calmly) and she forded the upper Hudson River. OTTBs can truly do anything!

  8. Betty Moore

    So long needed —so deserved and such good things– will!! come from this–they are truely magnificent animals–Will look forward to seeing how it all goes down—

  9. Betsy

    We have two horses that raced at EMD, half sibs. One was found headed for a Canadian slaughterhouse, the other we got right off the track so that wouldn’t happen to her. They are the best horses — sweet, intelligent, calm.

  10. susan

    Please please please make sure the meat buyers don’t get any.

  11. June

    Great news. I have an OTTB from Portland Meadows who is 21; I got him when he failed as a barrel horse after being on the track. He has been a 4-H horse, trail horse, Carried Rodeo Court Royalty in many parades including the Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral and more importantly has been a super lesson horse helping hundreds learn to ride and enjoy horses. He is very gentle, quiet and kind. Love to find another!

  12. Maggie

    This is exciting. Between this and the TIP awards OTTB are finally getting the recognition they richly deserve.

  13. Highgunner


    Thanks for the story. Great to see these new initiatives by the tracks.


  14. Betty Goodman

    God Bless You !I have always wanted to be able to adopte from a race trac but really never knew how. I helped a friend with a qtr horse she got off trac, maybe one day this will be a possibilty for me. i just recently adopted two wonderful sweet mares from a kill pen that was to ship to canada slaughter . Starlight Sanctuary made it poss. there are so many good horses that just need a chance and you will be giving these Throughbreeds second chance im glad there owners are allowing it to happened that shows responsible love for the animal that tryed for them great idea.

  15. Melanie Knight

    I have a friend who has been very active in rescuing racing Greyhounds, it is a wonderful program and benefits not only the wonderful dogs but their new families.
    Way to go!

  16. Lisa Capellaro

    It’s about time. Thank You for bringing attention to some amazing horses that might have been overlooked because of their breed. I believe a TB can and will do whatever you ask of them.

  17. Jennifer Selken

    Love hearing about all the new programs to promote Thoroughbreds and their aftercare.

  18. Janna Brown

    I will keep track of this event and will have to send up some of mine to show! The two that I have in mind are from ED orginally!

  19. Karen Worthington

    I am the Show Committee Chair and will be acting as Manager for the Prodigious show at Emerald Downs. Just returned from a weekly brainstorming session for the show, and how exciting to see this post!

    I’m referring to the show as, “I Love My Thoroughbred” because we’re offering ALL riders of Thoroughbreds a unique opportunity to share their horses with the world. We will even have a wall where the exhibitors can share their horse’s very own story!

    1. kris

      This is awesome news. I hope in the future they will have events like this on racing weekends before the races start so race fans can see the horses in action after they retire from racing. I’ve heard even racehorse owners and trainers saying OTTBs cannot be transitioned successfully into new careers, which is completely false. It would be great if the people who support racing were there to see how versitle these horses are after they retire from the track.

      How do we find out more info about these three events? Will it be posted on the EMD webpage?

  20. Sharon Peck

    Great job to all those involved in making this happen.

  21. Mary Perry

    I wish our barn was closer. We are located in California. We have four Thoroughbreds. One was never on the track, she won 2010 USEF National English Pleasure Hunter Seat Champion. The other three have just started their new life. Two started showing last year and placed in local orginizations. Two are in the jumper world and the other in the hunter world. My husband and I started taking in horses that needed a home in 1990. In 2009 we were introduced to an owner whose race horses are in Washington. He is a unique individual who finds homes for all of his horses who no longer race. We have the utmost respect for him. The OTTB initiative is a God sent, and the Prodigious Fund is so needed. I know first hand how expensive taking in horses can be in general, not to mentioned if or when medical issues arise.

  22. Janna Brown

    I love this idea and hope it is adopted at other tracks (ie Portland Meadows) as well! I showed hunter/jumper with thoroughbreds for years and now I take in OTTBs so I think they are the best! Thank you and I will follow this with great interest!

    1. Kelly O'Neill

      Hi Janna – hope you bring this article to the attention of William Alempijevic General Manager at Portland Meadows. I work for the Oregon Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Association and hope to bring it to their attention as well.

      1. Janna Brown

        Kelly – I will do just that! I will see if I can be looped in to the ED marketing gal to see what it involved and see what the chances are for doing something in 2014! Maybe getting support from local/regional horse rescue groups too! Thanks for the suggestion!

  23. Deborah Hoonan

    Very cool!! Good Job, Sophia

    1. Marianne Meeker

      It’s about time. Norm’s Nephew will be cheering….

  24. Regina brantner

    WOW. this is wonderful. It is so nice to see a change in the way a race track looks at a horse. Ie. past the $$. I am not a fan of racing because of the past disregard of respect and responsibility for the horse. Hopefully this catches on all over the country.

  25. Lisa Melone

    What a great idea–hope it catches on at all tracks. Kudos to Sophia for making it happen. I’d love to see the “slowest canter” class!

  26. Heidi Carpenter

    Wonderful–I hope this program catches on like wildfire! Perhaps they should advertise the “show” and canter competition, and make the whole thing family as well as equestrian friendly.

  27. LW

    One of the best horses I have ever owned was an OTTB. Captain raced, was injured, then was turned into a family horse. He learned english, jumping, rodeo, 4-H and therapudic riding. He is now 28 years old. Its coming close to the end for this old boy but he has lived a full life and has made many people happy and taught many people how to ride young and old. I really hope this program works. They are wonderful animals and deserve to begin again after their racing years.

  28. Deb Johnson

    would be nice to see this in place and horses out of kill pens. The ottb in my pasture got very lucky. Too many of these hard working horses have a bad end. Thank you!

  29. Lynda

    This is fabulous! The East Coast TB only shows are getting hundreds of entries, and horses with new jobs at which they can excel. I’ve had two show horses as an adult both TBs, and while neither raced both have shown in the hunters, one at some of the biggest shows in the country. The one I owned from 3 to 22 when he passed away showed in the hunter breeding classes all the way to the Regular Working hunters when the jumps were 4′ – 4’6″ and did very well.

    The one I have now I bought as a 2 year old and he has done fairly well in the hunters, he has tons of talent for it but he has a bit of a temper, we are still putting the pieces together on this puzzle. He will get there when we figure it all out.

    TBs have the heart, and the brains to excel at any sport beyond the track. They deserve the chance to do just that.

  30. MacKenzie


  31. TBDancer

    The more connections to TB racing get involved in the “after the races” side of the sport, finding second careers for these wonderful horses–a task that actually takes a bit of time and some publicity and an organized approach to the “events”–the better it will be for all concerned. The biggest selling point for me is the thousands of dollars of training an ex-racehorse has received. Granted there needs to be retraining, but the basics are there–and they are often very GOOD basics–and it just takes someone with an eye to spot the good citizen under it all. This type of “initiative” provides the opportunity for all those things to come together. Excellent!

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