Phillips: TAA Isn’t There Just To Care For Horses, But To Protect Racing’s Future by John Phillips|03.01.202103.01.2021|3:12pm3:30pm “I take care of my own,” responded the prominent owner who declined to make a commitment of financial support to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. In that response is a lack of understanding about the purpose of the TAA. While the “goal” of the TAA is to assure that Thoroughbreds exiting racing receive a soft landing with a new owner who promises to assume responsibility of care, thereby relieving the racing industry of its responsibility. The “purpose” of the TAA is to protect the sport of horse racing and thereby assure its future. The goal and purpose are very different things. It makes little difference to the TAA if you believe that horses are just livestock or that horses are a revered companion animal worthy of better treatment. These are individual values, a debate about which the TAA need not engage. What is incontestable, however, is that if we want Thoroughbred horse racing to survive, all of us must commit to a broad scope of aftercare, more than just “taking care of my own.” Racing participants understand that Thoroughbred racing is essentially a pyramid with graded stakes at the top, descending through a myriad of classes to a very broad base of claiming ranks at the lowest end of performance. While owners and breeders of every ilk aspire to the pyramid's peak, the reality is that everyone who has owned, trained or bred horses for very long has had their share of disappointments. These disappointments work through the system and generally depart the sport through these bottom claiming ranks. All know this and rely upon the broad base to hold up the value of those special horses at the top of the pyramid. Without this base the economics of the sport will not function. It is wonderful that so many top breeders, trainers and owners have special outlets or their own field of equine pensioners that they take care of post racing. But not all Thoroughbreds are so lucky and with the mobility and breath of our sport, keeping track of a horse you bred, raced or trained is an effort. And besides, people say, isn't that someone else's responsibility once ownership of the horse was transferred? In a perfect world, it is the transferees' responsibility, but this is not a perfect world. Those “special equines” who earn private pensioner status rely on a healthy sport with its broad base of the less talented through which they rise to earn that “special” pensioned treatment. To be clear, the TAA vigorously pursues all sectors and all levels, including the most modest of our sport, to help finance their on-the-ground partners who do the work of retraining, rehoming and sanctuary. These efforts most certainly include education and fundraising at the very base of the pyramid. But efforts at the base of the pyramid, while financially helpful, burn a lot of oxygen and are more long-term approaches at a time when the public demands immediate results. John Phillips This sport is a privilege. Those of us who have enjoyed its thrills and love its culture, however experienced, must do more than just “take care of our own.” We must take care of the future of the sport and if that means we must do more than our share of aftercare, then so be it. To whom much is given, much is also required. The TAA, with an ever-increasing number of partners (the total is now estimated to be at 83) with 175 retraining, rehoming or retirement facilities, is desperately trying to defend the sport by answering the public's clear demand for a soft landing of our athletes as they exit racing competition. TAA is a well thought-out, practical and effective answer to the public's concern. Our “first exit from racing” philosophy is getting closer every year to assuring that all horses exiting racing get this soft landing from the sport. Whether you're an owner, breeder, buyer or seller, a stallion farm or trainer, when the TAA seeks your support, keep in mind that our “purpose” is to protect the sport. And now with COVID-19 negatively impacting TAA's income, we need those who “take care of their own” for which the TAA is most appreciative, to take one further step and help the TAA take care of the sport. John Phillips is a third-generation horseman, owner of Darby Dan Farm near Lexington, Ky., and manager of Phillips Racing Partnership. Phillips has served on a number of board positions in the racing industry and has previously been a director of the board of the Bluegrass Conservancy, Thoroughbred Club of America, and Breeders' Cup, and is currently a director of The Jockey Club Information Systems and is on TOBA's executive committee. Phillips also served two terms as a racing commissioner in Kentucky. He is the immediate past president of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and serves on its board and executive committee.