Hibiscus Stables has owned Frazil for 25 of its 70 lifetime runs. He raced well for the partnership, winning five times and finishing in the top three in 12 starts, most of them winning races, none of them more important than the race he ran on November 30, 2016, finishing seventh at Aqueduct Racetrack.
“He did very well in that race,” said Jon Taisey, executive vice president of sales and customer relations for Hibiscus, alongside the bay gelding outside the National Museum of Racing on Saturday morning. “But he was about to turn 11, and he was running about in [low-level] applicants at that time. He was so good to us, and we saw the writing on the wall that he was silent. He was probably ready to go out and win another race. But we didn’t want to risk someone claiming it and making it disappear. So we decided to retire him.
One of the uncomfortable truths about horse racing is that horse welfare is determined by both financial and ethical considerations. It costs a lot of money to buy and maintain a racehorse at any level of racing, and it’s tempting for owners to try to recoup some of the money they’ve invested in a horse. , either by purse money or by a claim. But sometimes – maybe even often – finances and ethics point to retirement.
“Owners need to recognize that spending money training a horse that is no longer performing at the top of its game will not be successful,” said Andy Belfiore, executive director of the Take2 Second Career Thoroughbred program and the program. Take The Lead Thoroughbred Retirement, both created and administered by the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “Continuing to train and race is not in the best interest of the horse or the owner. It’s a smart business decision as well as an ethical decision to take the horse out at the right time.
On Monday at Saratoga Racetrack, Take2 and Thoroughbred Education and Research Foundation will host a luncheon where racetrack veterinarian Dr. Keith Bogatch will discuss this issue. The “Lunch and Learn” event will focus on owner education, and speakers will include Belfiore; coach Rick Schosberg, chairman of the NYTHA Aftercare Committee and president of Take2 and Take The Lead; Monique Coston, head trainer and director of agricultural operations at Akindale; and Deanna Mancuso, founder and executive director of Lucky Orphans Horse Rescue. Akindale and Lucky Orphans are both Thoroughbred Aftercare Association accredited retirement/retraining facilities.
“Most owners want to do the right thing and don’t necessarily know what the right thing is,” Belfiore said. “The right time to retire a horse is not obvious, and owners are not necessarily sufficiently informed to make this decision. I think owners need to get more involved with their trainers and vets so they can educate themselves when the time comes.
Over the past decade, the thoroughbred racing industry has taken a number of steps to improve its approach to and participation in racehorse retirement. These steps include establishing revenue streams for accredited facilities and creating racetrack retirement programs.
These programs have resulted in the growing awareness that racing stakeholders should be responsible for horses when they can no longer race, that it is no longer acceptable for owners to disclaim their knowledge or responsibility for retired horses that find themselves in dangerous situations.
Yet, almost daily, we hear of Thoroughbreds at risk of being shipped to slaughterhouses in Mexico or Canada. We learn about horses that have won tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on the racetrack and are now in dangerous situations. Sometimes their old contacts – owners or breeders – step in to help when asked to do so. Often they don’t.
How do you reach people who have irresponsibly discarded horses? What to do with the horse that has changed hands several times since its racing or breeding days and is now in danger? How, in the end, can we change the hearts and minds of people who seem impervious to the suffering of the very animals that brought them joy, excitement, pride or profit?
Programs like the one in Saratoga on Monday will help. The same will apply to the continuing education of owners and trainers who are mandated by the racing commissions and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. But perhaps the most effective evangelists are owners and trainers who are already doing the right thing.
“Hibiscus stays in touch with me,” said Jennifer LeGere, who adopted Frazil and retrained him as a successful dressage horse. “They ask me, ‘What do you need? How can we help?’ Frazil is going to need surgery and Hibiscus is going to help me pay for it.
LeGere had sent Frazil to Saratoga for an event at the Museum. One of his former trainers, Steve Klesaris, showed up to see him, as did Jackie Davis, who rode him five times during his career. Fans of all ages lined up to pet Frazil and feed him carrots and peppermints. The fearless toddlers held hands outstretched so the big horse could gently nibble a treat from their palms.
“We could have run another race with Frazil,” Taisey said. “But if he had been claimed or injured, where would he have ended up? To get $5,000 or $10,000 more in the pockets of our partners? It made no sense.
“Whether the horses are running in $5,000 races or half a million dollars, whether they cost $5,000 or half a million dollars, the cost is the same to look after them. And they should be taken care of until the end of their days.
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