In a town that lost one of its McDonald’s Restaurant at the start of the year and its racetrack a few weeks ago, two horse-loving Fort Erie women doggedly work to find soft landings for racehorses who would otherwise lose their jobs, entering an unknown fate, since the rusted, chain-length fence was stretched across the backside’s entrance and padlocked.
Owners and trainers too, who didn’t know what their next steps would be, worked earnestly with Alexis Kacho-Sinke and Kim Sinodinos, co-founders of horse charity Second Start Thoroughbreds, to make sure their horses would be safe.
“I’m amazed that the track embraced us and turned our program at Second Start Thoroughbreds into something so successful,” says Kacho-Sinke. “In 2013, we’ve placed 135 horses so far this year, and since we began three years ago, we’ve placed over 400.”
Thirty-five horses are still available for sale at Second Start Thoroughbreds.
For many of the 200 or so workers affected by the Oct. 15 track closure, the horses “are what it’s all about,” says Fort Erie outrider and pony girl Laurie Langley. She and her husband are both facing the prospect of finding new jobs as the Canadian government considers whether to permanently close the track.
“Many of the horses I’ve seen listed (with Second Start) are ones I know were very special to their owners,” Langley says. “I know that they wanted what was best for them, especially going into a long winter facing the unknown.”
She adds, “Most trainers and owners have been working diligently to make sure that all their hoses are going into the best place possible. Second Start has been a godsend in that respect, to help us network our horses and get them into new homes in a timely manner.”
This year’s race season at Fort Erie was pretty thin already, with only a total of 250 horses racing at the once-robust track that typically ran over 1,000.
Kacho-Sinke explains that negotiations with the Canadian government triggered last-minute changes to schedules, which resulted in far fewer horsemen participating at Fort Erie this year.
Even so, there was a feeling of hope on the backside all year as horsemen awaited word that the track, which had suffered in the wake of a governmental decision to pull out its slot machines, might rebound.
But by Oct. 15, the last day of the meet, Kacho-Sinke drove away from the track in tears. Though she’d never been a “trackie,” and had gone there simply to help re-home racehorses, she felt devastated when the government announced in October that the track was not a “viable” operation.
“It’s very sad. While we do what we do for the horses, it’s hard not to become fond of the people; I felt like I was part of the family,” she says, adding, “At the end of the meet, I cried all the way home. It’s the weirdest feeling. It was a funeral atmosphere at the track, and after the last horse crossed the finish line, I looked around and nobody looked happy.”
In the wake of the expected closure of Fort Erie, Kacho-Sinke is shifting the focus of Second Start Thoroughbreds to other racing venues, including Woodbine Racetrack, but will maintain her goal of listing ex-racehorses, for horsemen who want to help their horses find a soft landing.