America’s Forgotten Athletes


White Paper assignment for Professional Report Writing ENGL 3365 at Texas Tech University, Spring 2018.


America’s Forgotten Athletes: Considering Thoroughbred Horses for Post-Racing Careers

Introduction

This paper discusses the viability of the Thoroughbred horse in post-racing careers, the benefits to the industry and the affluence of the breed. The American Thoroughbred has been overlooked as an athletic, intelligent competition horse in the United States over the last forty years. Thoroughbred racing is a multi-million dollar industry that produces athletes that often retire at 4 or 5 years old, leaving them jobless for their prime years.

Off The Track Thoroughbreds in Second Careers

Over the last six years there has been a resurrection of the American Thoroughbred in post-racing careers. The American racing industry has fallen under harsh criticism for animal welfare, especially the fates of horses once they retire from racing. With catastrophic injuries occurring in televised major races, like Barbaro’s fractured ankle in the 2006 Preakness Stakes, bringing national attention to the industry, and as a result, negative publicity has surrounded Thoroughbred racing. (Drape, 2006) Contrasting that negative image is the growing network, and publicity surrounding Thoroughbreds has been driven by the formation of the Retired Racehorse Project in 2010, and the annual Thoroughbred Makeover competition. (RRP, n.d.) The Thoroughbred Makeover has brought together trainers and horses from across North America, building a network and shedding light on the talents of Thoroughbreds retired from racing. The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, funded by seed money from the Breeders Cup, LTD, The Jockey Club, and the Keeneland Association, helps with aftercare quality for off the track Thoroughbreds, making it easier to find horses from reliable trainers and owners. (TAA, n.d.) Setting standards for rescues and trainers handling horses leaving the racetrack has helped increase the success of OTTBs finding quality homes.

Why choose Thoroughbred horses? With the oldest documented bloodlines, dating back to the 1700s in Jockey Club registry records, the Thoroughbred has proven itself as a successful breed, as well as being the foundation or outcross stock for other breeds. Originating in England, the Thoroughbred is the most documented breed in the world, with influence on every continent. As a breed of horse with versatile talent that far beyond racing, Thoroughbreds have been seen predominantly in Eventing, but have also succeeded in Western disciplines, traditionally viewed as the place for American Quarter and Paint horses. Thoroughbreds that have retired from the racetrack have the advantage of already having been exposed to varied environments, making it easy to start them in training for new jobs. According to the Retired Racehorse Project’s 2016-2017 Annual Report, 578 trainers applied to retrain retired racehorses and compete for the title of Most Wanted Thoroughbred in 2017. (RRP, 2017) The recent announcement of applications for 2018 shows a 38% increase in applicants, bringing the competitor numbers up to 812 trainers. (RRP, 2018)

Why Overlooking OTTBs Hurts the Equine Industry

The American Thoroughbred has fallen out of the limelight of the Eventing world over the last forty years. Additionally, they are overlooked for other second careers because they are associated with racing and English disciplines. In some areas of the horse industry they are viewed as unintelligent, lame, often called ‘crazy,’ genetically inferior with hoof problems or poor conformation, none of which is based on any sound research. Since the mid-70s, when European-bred Calypso, by the Thoroughbred sire Lucky Boy, the American Eventing world has predominantly imported European warmbloods, thus driving the American Thoroughbred out of the competition ring. (Hector, 2008) At the same time, since the development of the American Quarter Horse Association in 1940 (AQHA, n.d.), and later the American Paint Horse Association’s founding in 1962 (APHA, n.d.), there have been other American breeds competing with the Thoroughbred for attention on the market.

Despite the increase in publicity for OTTBs over the last ten years, they are often heavily stereotyped. Typically, this negative view comes from people inexperienced or unfamiliar with the breed, and only perceive Thoroughbreds as racing athletes associated with the negative images tied to high profile injuries. On the other hand, the American Quarter Horse has been marketed as a quiet, athletic symbol of the American West, drawing attention away from the Thoroughbred breed, and establishing the Quarter Horse as ‘America’s Horse,’ a catchphrase used by the American Quarter Horse Association. While Quarter Horses have been heavily advertised as descendants of Spanish Barbs and Chickasaw Indian mares (Beckmann, 2010), the dominant blood in Quarter – and Paint – horse breeds is the Thoroughbred. Heavily influenced by the United States Army Remount program, which operated from 1912 to 1946, the Quarter Horse foundation sires and dams, were managed and bred by ranches and farms that participated in the Remount. (Livingston & Roberts, 2003) The Remount breeding program was dominated by Thoroughbred stock, chosen for specific attributes that are still seen in today’s Quarter Horses.

Changing the Mindset

Impact on the equine market due to the post-racing value of the Thoroughbred horse can be most greatly noted in a lack of market demand setting sale prices low. The lack of demand for OTTBs has created a market driven on slaughter prices, which average $300-$800 per horse. According to the Retired Racehorse Project, the market change has altered from viewing OTTB value at as low a price as free to the purchase price for some of the 2017 Makeover horses rising to $3000-$4000. (RRP, 2017) Reinvesting money into retired Thoroughbreds, some of which may have sold for prices as high as $100,000 as yearlings, benefits breeders and trainers, both in racing and show disciplines, while reducing the number of horses sold for slaughter outside the United States.

The successes and ongoing publicity for Thoroughbreds in post-racing careers is also bolstered by owners showing their Thoroughbreds and using the Jockey Club Registry’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program. (Jockey Club, n.d.) Before the launch of the TIP program, the Jockey Club was the only breed registry in America that did not offer documentation and credit for showing achievements. The addition of this program has given support to small show producers in North America, and recognition for Thoroughbred horses achieving success in all levels of training.

Conclusion

Consider an off the track Thoroughbred as your next show horse, or project to train and sell. With rising market value, documented success in post-racing careers, and undeniable influence in breeding programs, the previously overlooked breed is on the rise. It is a growing market that is backed by some of the most prominent breeders in racing. From a business standpoint, the financial benefit of investing in a horse with increasing value does not require explanation. From a rider or trainer’s viewpoint, it is an investment in talent, willingness, and trainability that makes an OTTB a significant investment. Riding and training legend, George Morris, has openly supported the Thoroughbred as an Event horse. In a 2011 Chronicle of the Horse article by Molly Strange, Morris explained his views:

“Somehow, we have to get back to the horses we have in this country. There are tens of thousands of horses out there. There are Gem Twists out there. The American Thoroughbred is the best sport horse in the world…”

George Morris, Chronicle of the Horse 2011

A powerful message coming from one of the most acclaimed and well-known riders and trainers in American Eventing history. It is hard to disagree with such an authority on the topic as Morris. With the expanding increase in knowledge about the talent of retired racehorses, expect Thoroughbreds to become more common in a wide variety of post-racing careers over the next twenty years.