Two industry announcements separated by only a day were related in a way—the Safety and Integrity Alliance initiative put forth by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and the annual Report of Mares Bred issued by The Jockey Club.
Alex Waldrop, CEO of the NTRA, noted five areas Oct. 15 that were targeted for health and safety reform, among them what his organization called the “implementation of placement programs for Thoroughbreds that can no longer compete.”
In its release Oct. 16, The Jockey Club, the breed’s official registry, noted the number of mares covered by stallions in North America in 2008 experienced a 7.7% decline.
They may not seem connected, but they are.
The health and safety reforms seemingly all relate to the racetrack, such as implementing uniform medication rules and regulations. But finding homes for horses that can no longer race extends well beyond the racetrack.
Which in turn relates to the Report of Mares Bred, because logic says fewer mares bred means fewer foals, which, in the end, means fewer unwanted horses.
Granted, Thoroughbreds that can no longer compete do not necessarily translate to Thoroughbreds that are unwanted. Certainly many, if not most, breeders, owners, and trainers care for their horses throughout their lives. We were reminded of this the previous week when Princess Rooney and Cozzene, both 28, were humanely euthanized after happy and productive lives both on and off the racetrack, by owners who refused to let them suffer needlessly.
But even those who conscientiously care for their horses often lose track of animals purchased privately, lost through the claiming box, or sold at public auction.
Interestingly, in September, Waldrop submitted a letter to the House Judiciary Committee taking “no position” on House Resolution 6598, which would ban the transportation of horses for slaughter. Though the last slaughterhouses in the United States were closed in 2007, thousands of horses of all breeds are still packed on trailers and transported to our border neighbors, Canada and Mexico.
The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act was originally introduced in 2003 as HR 857. That measure never got out of committee, but in 2006 a similar resolution did, passing the House before languishing in a Senate committee.
The latest resolution is backed by many in the Thoroughbred industry, the charge led by Pin Oak Stud owner Josephine Abercrombie.
Breeders and owners, admittedly, are partially responsible for the growth in the number of unwanted horses. As the market for horses became considerably more commercial in nature, stallion books grew and breeders were more willing to take a chance with many marginal mares. As such, the number of horses needing homes following their racing careers—certainly not forgetting those who never make a start on a racetrack—has also risen.
Now, as we approach the largest catalog ever for a Keeneland November sale, there is a growing concern about those hips that will fail to get a live bid and/or find a new home. There is some hope that shoppers looking for event and sport horses, or perhaps mares to breed to Quarter Horse stallions, will see an opportunity.
Among the primary functions of the NTRA are the marketing and promotion of the sport, and lobbying efforts on its behalf in our nation’s capital. So, it is encouraging that among the five major areas of concern addressed by the NTRA in its new reforms is the acknowledgment that we need “placement programs for Thoroughbreds that can no longer compete.”
The NTRA’s new initiative is designed to address the health and safety of the horse. Surely, opposing the transportation of horses for slaughter is good for the health and safety of horses.
Applaud the NTRA for its leadership in regard to the reforms, which will bring needed change to the entire industry. At the same time, insist it step up to the plate against anything related to the slaughter of horses.