By: Erin Shea, @BH_EShea
An hour after Always Dreaming crossed the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), the colt's trainer made an announcement about his Derby prize, a new Ram truck.
"I will definitely take the truck because it has significant sentimental meaning to me," Todd Pletcher said. "But I'd like to donate the value of the truck to Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and New Vocations.
"It's very important for us to take care of our retired racehorses. And so, like I said, I want to keep the truck. But I'm happy to make that donation."
While the large donation immediately after the Kentucky Derby was an initial shock to both aftercare groups, the fact that it came from a longtime supporter of aftercare wasn't.
"Todd has always been very generous to aftercare," said Stacie Clark Rogers, operations consultant for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. "He's always been a supporter of the TAA, and we're lucky to have guys like him in the game.
"Aftercare is important to all of us. Whether it's a big race or a small race, all of the horses and the people who look after them need to be looked after as well."
Todd Pletcher and his Kentucky Derby prize
The exact amount of the donation had not been disclosed to the organizations as of Sunday, but the various models of the trucks retail from approximately $26,500 to $62,000. The monetary value of the donation is obviously important financially to the two 501(c)(3) organizations. New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program operates four facilities for Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds and relies on donations to help with operating costs. The TAA awards grants to its accredited aftercare facilities across the country. Almost equally important is the support of a big name in racing at the country's most well-known race.
"It was a pleasant surprise," said Anna Ford, program director at New Vocations. "It's a gift that's going to continue to give for many reasons. Financially, we'll put that toward our operating costs, and the publicity around (the donation) continues to blossom.
"I hope it encourages more people, specifically owners, to step up and make contributions to aftercare. It's also a testament that trainers have a voice to their owners, so it's great to have a trainer step up and show their support."
Ford, the former manager of E. Paul Robsham Stable, said New Vocations is honored by Pletcher's generosity, but she's not surprised by his good intentions since many former Pletcher-trained horses have found new careers through New Vocations' program. One of the most high-profile horses as of late is Discreet Dancer, a grade 2 winner who also ran third in the 2013 Carter Handicap (G1). The former Pletcher runner is settled into his new career as a jumper and is an ambassador for the organization.
"Todd's endorsement over the years has been very instrumental in making connections with others in the industry, which has moved New Vocations forward. We've grown significantly in the last five years, and he's one of the people who has helped us do that. It wasn't something he was necessarily trying to do, but just recommending our program to people that he interacts with has been huge," Ford said, also mentioning donations from the Zayat family, who gifted a percentage of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah's earnings in the second half of 2015 to New Vocations.
"It's a win-win for us and for the industry as a whole," she added. "I think it says a lot when you have these big leaders in the industry stepping up and doing this. It's just great for everybody."