By: Erin Shea
Inspired by what he experienced while wagering at the 2017 Breeders' Cup at Del Mar, Bob Hutton returned to Arizona with an idea to raise money for Thoroughbred aftercare.
Hutton, the president of the Arizona Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association, was making wagers on AmTote machines that had a pop-up interface to ask bettors if they would like to donate a portion of their winnings to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. While the tote technology used at Turf Paradise is too old to offer that option to bettors, Hutton thought that the track could put out boxes to encourage patrons to leave donations. Through the support of Turf Paradise owner Jerry Simms and general manager Vince Francia, six lockboxes were placed in track's grandstand, clubhouse, and Turf Club.
"I thought it would be a good idea because most people who go to the races have some compassion for the animals and really care. So I came up with the idea to put some lockboxes with some literature and some photos around the racetrack, because I thought that people would want to help," Hutton said.
To encourage donations, the boxes have photos of various retired runners at Patti Shirley's Equine Encore Foundation contrasted with a photo of the horse during their racing days (via Coady Photography), along with a call to action for donations. The money collected will go to various groups, including Echo Canyon Equine Foundation and two Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited organizations, Equine Encore and After the Homestretch.
One of six lockboxes for collecting aftercare donations at Turf Paradise
"When someone has a voucher in the machine, if it's $500 or $1,000, to leave a dollar is not very painful. So it's pretty easy for people to go ahead and do it. ... As far as I'm concerned, if we got $200 a week (through the boxes), that's more than we had before," Hutton said, adding that Turf Paradise allocates $1 per starter for aftercare, but he's looking for ways to bring in more money for OTTBs.
For Hutton, who was elected president of the HBPA last April, the boxes are just the starting point to make a difference for the horses retiring from their racing careers at Turf Paradise.
"It's just one of those things that the HBPA is taking more of an interest in—what happens to these animals at the end of their career," he said. "And not that it hasn't happened before, but when I see an issue and someone tells me, 'Well this is the way that it's always been done,' I don't go for that. If you put your mind to it, you can make it better.
"The reality of the situation is that Santa Anita and Remington Park and all over the country is a feeding ground for Turf Paradise, and when those horses can't compete at those racetracks, they end up at Turf Paradise or in Arizona. We get a lot more horses here at the end of their careers or that just aren't very competitive than we breed. ... So we're kind of the feeding ground for the horses that can't run at Santa Anita, or get hurt and they bring them over here, and eventually if you run a horse long enough, they'll all run at the bottom."
Hutton said the Arizona HBPA's goal with aftercare is to help retiring Turf Paradise runners find a new home and a new career, and that raising more money for aftercare is a first step in that direction. While the boxes are still new, they have been received well so far.
"When they (the boxes) were put out, I took some of the trainers by and showed them and they were enthusiastic and said, 'No one has ever addressed it like this before,'" he said. "I think they felt like somebody was in their corner."