Okay, so maybe the Boston Globe could have worded the headline a bit better – “For sale: Used racehorses” wouldn’t exactly be my choice of words. But the story under the headline on Saturday was a wonderful bit of publicity for the efforts of CANTER and Suffolk Downs to help Thoroughbreds who need to find new careers as the live racing season winds down.
In just over two weeks, racing is done for the year at Suffolk, which has remarkably held on as the last Thoroughbred track in New England – struggling mightily in recent times, waiting for casino legislation which finally passed last year. The track remains the front-runner for the Boston-area casino license.
But back to the horses. CANTER is one of several non-profit organizations whose mission is to find homes for unwanted race horses. Some of the horses have injuries or wear and tear that preclude further racing, others are simply too slow to be competitive or just don’t want to be race horses. I’ve volunteered with the New England chapter for several years (CANTER is entirely volunteer-based) and I’ve never seen a group of people more dedicated to the cause. They shell out their own money when donations aren’t enough, and they work tirelessly to make sure every last horse has a place to go.
Yesterday, they hosted the 7th annual Suffolk Showcase, where potential buyers can see a seemingly endless parade of horses (more than 80 were catalogued this year). I’d say at least 50 people, maybe more, came to look at the horses despite cold, rainy and windy conditions. Fortunately Suffolk offered the use of the test barn where people could stay warm and dry as the horses came and went. These people are looking for show horses, polo horses, eventing horses, hunters and jumpers, or maybe even just casual riding horses and new best friends. Recently I had the pleasure of telling the story of one such Suffolk Downs OTTB and how she changed the life of the human fortunate enough to know her.
When people saw a horse or horses they liked come through the makeshift ring, they would go off to the barn for a closer look, and perhaps do a little bit of horse trading. Some came ready with trailers to haul away their prize, others will come back soon when the deal is done. Most of the horses are priced within the $500 to $2,000 range, enough to keep the bottom-feeders away.
And actually, those bottom feeders simply aren’t welcome. Suffolk Downs for years has had a “no slaughter” policy – anyone caught selling horses that end up in kill pens faces being banished from the track. Suffolk may have been the first track to implement such a policy, and track officials also go out of their way to support the efforts of CANTER. But it’s good to see that others have followed suit. And just last week a few tracks (part of the Stronach group) pledged, along with other major industry groups, to support the fledgling Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, which will begin accrediting and funding various aftercare facilities.
It’s high time the industry began more formal programs to solve the problem of unwanted race horses. Hopefully money will flow to the non-profits that do all the legwork, such as CANTER. And if you ever have a few extra dollars in your pocket or time on your hands, think of the group or groups that work near you. The horses deserve it.