After months of discussion and examination, plans for an expanded aftercare program for Thoroughbred racing in Maryland are now coming together quickly, with a launch only a few months away.
There is great anticipation for Beyond The Wire, a key component of which is dedicated funding for the placement of retired racehorses at the state’s racetracks. Maryland has been very active in aftercare efforts over the years, but a decision was made in 2016 to provide a more organized program.
The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association last September authorized a commitment of $25,000 a year over five years to help fund Beyond The Wire, and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and Maryland Jockey Club agreed to the same contribution. The Maryland jockey colony will donate an estimated $20,000 a year through per-mount contributions.
Of the contributions from jockeys, 60% will go to Beyond The Wire and 40% to a new jockey benevolence program administered by the MTHA.
Currently, most horsemen participate in a voluntary $6 per start donation at Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course and the Maryland State Fair at Timonium. It will increase to $11 per start for an estimated annual amount of $110,000.
In total, about $210,000 could be available in 2017 for the aftercare program, whose board of directors will include representatives of the MTHA Aftercare Committee, MJC, MHBA, the jockey colony, and the Maryland Racing Commission. Beyond The Wire will be a 501(c)3 organization, which allows it to accept tax-deductible donations, and it will have its own website.
“We’ve already got a pot of money—over $200,000—that is twice what New York has got for its program,” said Jessica Hammond, the MTHA Counseling Administrator who will administrate Beyond The Wire. “New York (handled) 75 horses last year, and I know we’ll have more than that. The first year we’ll start slow to make the sure the infrastructure we have in place is stable, but in the first year we still have the potential to do more than 75 horses.”
Hammond and other MTHA officials traveled to New York Feb. 4 to meet with New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Executive Director Andy Belfiore, who oversees the organization’s TAKE THE LEAD and TAKE2 retirement and retraining programs.
“We talked a lot about their intake process—from the time somebody decides to retire a horse to the time it is shipped away from the track,” Hammond said. “We asked a lot of questions and learned about what to do and what not to do in an aftercare program.”
Beyond The Wire organizers will begin identifying potential farm partners to care for or retrain equine retirees. Maryland currently has two Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited farms: MidAtlantic Horse Rescue in Chesapeake City and Foxie G. Foundation in Libertytown.
“The program will be an added bonus—it’s really going to add a lot to the whole community—in giving these horses more options after they race,” said Beverly Strauss, Co-Founder and Executive Director of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue. “Maryland has always been committed to aftercare, and it is in a great position. It has an amazing foundation of really good horsemen and horsewomen and farms.”
Beyond The Wire, which will have its own website, is scheduled to roll out the week of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in late May. Word about the program began circulating last fall.
“I already have people calling me about placing horses,” Hammond said. “Even though the program hasn’t launched, we’re still assisting them.”
MJC President and General Manager Sal Sinatra, who directed the racing program at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania for many years before he came to Maryland at the end of 2015, was involved in the Pennsylvania THA’s launch of its aftercare program called Turning for Home.
“I’m excited about Beyond The Wire having come from Parx, where Turning for Home is a success,” Sinatra said. “It’s necessary for us to give our athletes a second chance. There’s no better feeling than seeing a horse you bet win a blue ribbon as an 11-year-old.
“With Maryland being a horse-friendly state and with its history, this is a natural fit. Everybody has to be involved in this effort. We have to make sure horses have full lives.”
By: Tom LaMarra