Industry Voices: Success of Ocala Initiative

Earlier this month the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation announced the completion of the organizational funding of the Ocala Initiative. The initiative was designed to garner support from horse farms and equine businesses, as well as individual donors, to advance equine research.

Florida-based organizations raised $100,000, and we are hoping individuals will contribute another $100,000 to match that total.

The Ocala Initiative, the brainchild of the late Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, was conceived early one morning in Saratoga in August 2015.

I was a new employee of Grayson at the time, and Mr. Phipps, as a board member and former chairman, spent more than an hour and a half at the Phipps family barn with me, helping to advance my understanding of our work.

When our meeting was complete, we went to the training track in his golf cart. Mr. Phipps saw Niall Brennan, who breaks the Phipps family’s horses. He asked Niall if he thought Grayson could raise $100,000 from equine organizations in and around Ocala. Brennan said “yes,” and Mr. Phipps kindly suggested I get to work.

Over the next few weeks I put together a proposal and began considering possible partners. Brennan was an invaluable ally in this work, helping to guide my understanding of farms and businesses in the equine world around Ocala and throughout Florida.

I first reached out to Tom Ventura, then president of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. Ventura was quick to join forces with Grayson in support of the initiative.

Next I contacted Lonny Powell of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association. We talked about projects that Grayson had undertaken to establish best practices for dealing with various equine health challenges. Powell recognized the value of this research to his members. We had two strong partners on-board.

With Brennan’s assistance I then set up a series of meetings in and around Ocala. Over the next several months I met with countless organizations in the equine world in terms of both the various competitive disciplines and the industries that support them.

Mike O’Farrell of Ocala Stud signed on. Then Craig Bernick of Glen Hill Farm and J.J. Pletcher of Payton Training Center joined the effort. Donald and Irene Dizney of Double Diamond Farm agreed to be our signature partner. Brennan continued to guide the process.

Mr. Phipps passed away in early April. His death was a profound loss for our sport, for The Jockey Club, and for Grayson. We lost a man who really cared about the industry, but more importantly we lost a man who really cared about the horse.

Brennan and I shared emails about Mr. Phipps’ passing. It was a sad day around The Jockey Club offices in New York City and Lexington and Brennan’s farm.

The Phipps family named Grayson (as well as The Jockey Club Safety Net Foundation) as the charities of choice for donations, and we received a great deal of support in his honor.

The initiative had now taken on even greater meaning as it became another way to honor Mr. Phipps’ memory.

In June, Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park came on board as partners in the Ocala Initiative. We then needed just one more organization to reach the $100,000 mark.

Brennan was very excited to hear the news, and while we were talking, he offered to do something extraordinary. He himself, on behalf of Niall Brennan Stables, wanted to make the final gift. This would complete the Ocala Initiative.

It made Mr. Phipps’ dream a reality and honored his lifelong commitment to equine health. It was a special moment that spoke to what we can do when we marshal our resources to work for the welfare of the horse.

As we begin our solicitation of individuals in the Ocala area to match the $100,000 we raised via Florida-based organizations, we have plans to bring this model to other equine communities around the country.

It’s a credit to Mr. Phipps and to Brennan that we have achieved this much. We hope others will follow their example as we work to improve the health of the horse and the health of the Thoroughbred industry.

Garrett Gleeson is the director of development and major gifts for the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.

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