Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2012: Year of the Thoroughbred

I hereby declare 2012 the Year of the Thoroughbred.

(I can do that. I have that power. Declarations and such.)

I write about Thoroughbreds, you know. It started out years ago with a blog about the broodmares and foals at my old Union Square Stables. Then it turned into Retired Racehorse Blog, all about my new project, a five year old retiree named Final Call. A couple more incarnations later, and I'm writing, as fast as my fingers will type, about the incredible advancements that Off-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) are making as they re-emerge into the limelight of the show-ring. Even my novel, The Head and Not The Heart, is about the special love a horsewoman bears for her Thoroughbreds.

And so it's a good time to be me. 

There is so much buzz about Thoroughbreds on the Internet, I'm surprised they haven't had a review in Pitchfork yet. And with websites like Off Track Thoroughbreds, Retired Racehorse Training Project, and The Thoroughbred Chronicles (not to mention my own humble site, Retired Racehorse Blog) picking up more and more hits every day from search terms like "Where to find a retired racehorse" and "What can a retired racehorse do" it's clear that the message is coming home to people: Retired racehorses can do... well... just about anything. 

Xlerate wins Horse of the Year at Barastoc,
Photo: Derek O'Leary
Consider Xlerate, who just a few days ago took home an unprecedented honor at the Barastoc Horse of the Year Show in Australia, winning both the Newcomer division and the Open Horse of the Year Division. Xlerate was a stakes horse who won a pretty penny in Hong Kong and Australia; six months ago he was eventing; now he is a champion show hack, showing gorgeous brilliance of movement and temperament. (In fact, seven other finalists for Open Horse of the Year were also Off-track Thoroughbreds.)

Consider the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge, presented by the Retired Racehorse Training Project. Headed by Steuart Pittman, the Maryland-based event rider who has stood at stud Thoroughbred stallion Salute the Truth, an OTTB who ran a few races before eventually eventing at the Advanced level, and a long time supporter of OTTBs, the Trainer Challenge took three Thoroughbreds, fresh off the track, and gave three trainers five weeks to put them together into something resembling a sporthorse. The video training diaries alone have attracted tens of thousands of views. 

Tens of thousands of views, of videos on how to train retired racehorses.

Something is happening here.

And it's happening on the backside, too.

The Jockey Club, once an organization formed merely to handle the breeding records of the hundreds of thousands of Thoroughbreds foaled each year, launched first Thoroughbred Connect, a database to connect racehorses with potential new owners, and then the Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program, which provides awards to OTTBs competing in a rainbow of disciplines. 

Some of the racing industry's heaviest hitters took part in the initial funding of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, including Fasig-Tipton, the Breeders' Cup, and major racecourses, in an effort to provide accreditation and standards to after-care facilities, as well as provide fund-raising efforts.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has launched a website, NTRAaftercare.com, offering resources and best practices for both racehorse trainers seeking to retire their horses responsibly and potential purchasers and adopters. Their Aftercare subcommittee includes members of both the racing and sporthorse communities. 

The gap is being bridged. From the backside to the show-ring, the endless possibilities that arise from a racehorse's athletic and workmanlike background are being recognized. And I, for one, can barely keep up with all the links, e-mails, and phone calls from people who want to tell me more about the OTTBs in their life. 

So yes, I declare it. 2012 is the Year of the Thoroughbred. 

(I bet that means it goes by really fast.)


RiderWriter said...

Hear, hear Natalie! I agree! The buzz has been growing for a while now, and it looks like things are FINALLY looking up for our TB friends. :-)

(Don't mean to be Debbie Downer but I hope it doesn't encourage breeders to crank out even more, as a large part of the problem is we have too many already!)

Linda Benson said...

Natalie - You should be very proud of your part in all of this, too. Not to pun off your book title too much, but when you put your head where your heart lies, and write about what really matters to you, great things can be accomplished. Bravo for your efforts in getting the public to recognize and talk about OTTBs.

Natalie Keller Reinert said...

Thank you, Linda!

RiderWrite, I have to agree I hope people don't get too gung-ho about breeding sport TBs. I think OTTBs are important to sport BECAUSE of their racetrack upbringing, not despite it!