Horowitz On OTTBs Presented by Excel Equine: Finding New Messages For Helping Retired Racehorses - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Horowitz On OTTBs Presented by Excel Equine: Finding New Messages For Helping Retired Racehorses

Jonathan Horowitz and AA Two Face and Ashley Horowitz and Monbeg Salt Fever with son Chase and ribbons after Young Event Horse at The Event at Archer. Photo by Heather Prislipsky.

If there's one thing that's predictable when it comes to horses, it's that they're unpredictable. And, that's a big part of their intrigue and attraction.

In 2022, a year when crowds returned to racetracks at full capacity, an 80-1 longshot won the Kentucky Derby and a once-in-a-generation star emerged that was worthy enough to be mentioned in the same breath as Secretariat.

The same could be said about retired racehorses in 2022. At the beginning of the year, I could never have predicted I'd be covering the following incredible storylines.

These stories give much for the horse racing industry to celebrate, and that's just what I've presented in my once-a-month column. There are racehorses that now compete at horse shows, give lessons to children, provide therapy, and are beloved by their owners much like they were by their fans when at the track.

However, when it comes time for the horse racing industry to craft a message about retired racehorses, unfortunately, it's become entirely predictable. From racing TV crews that showed up for the Thoroughbred Makeover to panels about aftercare to almost every time people in racing that have a platform to make a difference start talking about retired racehorses, it goes something like this: “Aftercare is so important. It's so great that these horses can have second careers.”

And, that's usually the end of the conversation, the end of the story, the end of the lip service that needs to be paid to an issue that the racing industry (at least) talks about being so important.

Just to illustrate how absurd and unproductive this surface-level messaging is, even from the leading aftercare organizations in the country, imagine turning on a football game and remarking, “It's so great that Tony Romo can have a second career as an announcer.” No shit. Most athletes, human or equine, generally retire from sport at a relatively young age with some degree of talent that can and hopefully will be utilized because they have a whole lot of life still in front of them. Or, imagine attending a conference about cancer research and the messaging stops at, “Cancer research is so important.” Cool. What's next?

So, it's no wonder that after Dave Johnson and Tom Durkin brought the house down in the “Storytellers of the Game – Racing's Legendary Announcers” panel at the 2022 Global Symposium on Racing, most of the attendees shuffled out of Salon A&B before the “Life After the Track – Second Careers & Retirement” panel.

Jessica Paquette, the announcer at Parx and a “Thoroughbred aftercare advocate,” which she includes in her Twitter profile, posted, “I am disappointed by how lightly attended the Aftercare panel is. This is an issue that impacts every stakeholder in racing and we should all be learning how we can do better for the horses.”

To which Harris Auerbach, the well-respected managing partner of M.Auerbach, LLC. who is also a great supporter of aftercare, responded, “Not to make any excuses as I think it's one of the more important panels at the symposium, but the panel itself (even with Joell [Dunlap] who is a superstar) didn't exactly have the panache of previous editions. Like it or not, it's the sizzle that sells.  Always.”

With all this in mind, here are a few ideas that horse racing can embrace to create some “sizzle” about aftercare. But, first, here are a few ideas to stop embracing.

  • Stop leading off with “aftercare is so important.” Frankly, if someone in horse racing doesn't realize this by now, they either don't care to or never will.
  • Stop talking about how when horses retire how important it is that they find their “forever home.” Breeders don't talk about how special their baby horses are and hope they find their forever home at a yearling sale. It's unrealistic. Racing connections with retired racehorses should talk about finding the “right home” for their horses. The “right home” may end up changing depending on the circumstances. Racing connections hardly ever provide a “forever home” to their horses, so why do they expect people getting their horses off the track to do the same?

Now for some new ideas that will hopefully create some sizzle.

  • Start talking about what retired racehorses do the same way the industry talks about what racehorses do — their performances, their abilities, their strengths and weaknesses, their personalities, their work ethic. That means learning about what they actually do (for example, see The Friday Show about “What Makes Up The Thoroughbred Makeover?”), rather than just lumping anything that's not racing under the vague umbrella of “second careers.” There are plenty of stories to create sizzle and capture an audience's attention. This column is a testament to that.
  • Start keeping track of racehorses beyond their racing prime. That means that The Jockey Club should make the effort to maintain a database of Thoroughbreds that doesn't go cold after horses' last races. The Thoroughbred Incentive Program is a start toward a more complete tracking of retired racehorses.
  • Start taking credit for the influence that the Thoroughbred breed has on other breeds. Sporthorse athletes, particularly eventers, search for horses with Thoroughbred blood, even if they're crosses of breeds and not pure Thoroughbreds. So, racing breeders and auction houses can market to an even wider audience and can celebrate the successes racing bloodlines have beyond the track.
  • Start creating syndicates for retired racehorses. Many syndicates, like MyRacehorse and other racing clubs, are about the experiences that racehorses provide, such as going to the track for their races or training. Seeing your horse competing in a cool atmosphere at a horse show could be similarly exciting.
  • Start offering direct financial support to people caring for and working with retired racehorses, rather than focusing fundraising efforts solely on non-profit organizations. More and more, including more than half of the horses that competed at the 2022 Thoroughbred Makeover, OTTBs are acquired directly from racing connections rather than through an aftercare organization or reseller. Support for retired racehorses can come in the form of prize money through horse shows, such as what Bally's Arapahoe Park offers at local shows in Colorado. Imagine a big-money Breeders' Cup for Thoroughbred sporthorses that could be supported through nominations by breeders of their horses, similar to how the races are funded.
  • Start having horse racing media cover the breed as a whole and following the racing stars beyond the track. For example, Whitmore was just as intriguing competing at the Thoroughbred Makeover as he was racing at the Breeders' Cup.

Some of these ideas, at the very least, may keep people in the room for a panel about aftercare, because Auerbach is spot-on about what is needed for that to happen. It's a safe bet that racehorses, whether retired or still racing, will be part of compelling stories in 2023. Let's celebrate them and use them as a catalyst to give back to the horses that give their all for our enjoyment.

Announcing horse races inspired Jonathan Horowitz to become an advocate for off-track Thoroughbreds, as well as to learn to event on OTTBs and to expand his announcing of and writing about equine sports to horse shows around the United States. He also announces a variety of sports around the Denver-metro area, where he and his wife, Ashley, run the Super G Sporthorses eventing barn. He can be reached on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube at @jjhorowitz.

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