Gulfstream Adds On-Site Aftercare Liaison To Assist Trainers In Retiring Horses - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Gulfstream Adds On-Site Aftercare Liaison To Assist Trainers In Retiring Horses

Gulfstream Park paddock

Trainers at Gulfstream Park looking for a safe way to retire their Thoroughbreds now have an on-site representative to call. In February, the track launched the Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Transition Program, led by Gulfstream aftercare liaison Raina Gunderson.

Gunderson is based in the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association office at Gulfstream, but is available to help place horses from Gulfstream Park West, Palm Meadows, Palm Beach Downs, Tampa Bay Downs, and Payson Park. Her role at Gulfstream will be similar to that of on-site liaisons at other Stronach Group properties, including Beyond The Wire in Maryland and CARMA's representative stationed at Golden Gate Fields.

Gunderson will take calls from trainers with horses ready to retire, then visit the horse at the barn to take photographs and do an assessment. Then, she works with Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited facilities to figure out which group has the space and would best fit the horse's needs. Gunderson helps trainers navigate the paperwork required to send a horse to a TAA facility, which can sometimes be daunting for those who haven't done it before.

So far, Gunderson said she has placed 15 horses in accredited aftercare facilities, and has another three waiting for spots to open up. Several of Florida's facilities have been overwhelmed with horses recently, so she has reached out to TAA groups out of state when a particular horse needs it.

“The Florida HBPA has been a great help with funding,” she said. “I have a lot of people behind me, helping.”

Since Gulfstream has been able to keep racing without spectators throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Gunderson said she didn't see a surge in retirement requests in early March, but she has gotten quite a few more recently.

As always, Gunderson warns trainers against One Last Race Syndrome, the temptation to enter a horse “just once more” to try to get one more successful performance. Too often, the extra time spent training or racing past the point of success results not in a horse who picks up a sizable check, but a horse who gets hurt. Like so many others in the aftercare world, Gunderson points out that it's considerably easier — and quicker — to move a horse out of the barn when the horse retires sound.

“The sound ones are fine; they can go straight to the facility and get adopted out with contracts,” she said. “And then I have a few who need months and months. Those are the tough ones, because that's a lot of money and a lot of work [for the organization].”

Gunderson is familiar with the South Florida circuit. She has competed hunter/jumpers and galloped on the track for the past 25 years, often retraining and selling off-track Thoroughbreds on the side. She worked as a farm manager before becoming the horsemen's relations representative for Gulfstream, which means most of the horsemen on the circuit already have her number in their phones.

“I must have rehabbed and transitioned 50 Thoroughbreds in my first two years on the track, because back then people wanted Thoroughbreds,” Gunderson said. “Thoroughbreds were the fancy breed, everybody wanted it. That was easy then; then all of a sudden, the Warmbloods came in and it got harder. They're coming back — with Retired Racehorse Project, they're coming back. Everyone wants an RRP-eligible horse.”

Gunderson hopes that one day, the Gulfstream program may have its own facility to house horses needing a lay-up before they enter retraining for a new career. Florida TRAC (Transitioning Retiring Thoroughbreds to Aftercare) has been a great resource for lay-ups, but is currently full.

Anyone interested in contacting Gunderson to ensure a safe retirement for their horse can reach her at the Gulfstrem Park Thoroughbred Transition Program's Facebook page.

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