This headline reads like a dream. The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance wins the 2013 Special Eclipse Award honoring extraordinary service, individual achievements in, or contributions to the sport of Thoroughbred racing. Many thought an organization comprised of Thoroughbred breeders, owners, jockeys, and trainers dedicated to retraining and rehoming Thoroughbreds after their racing careers had ended, would never happen. But with hard work, determination, and the support of everyone involved, TAA has proven dreams do come true.
When I caught up with the Executive Director of TAA, James Hastie, just days after their organization received the prestigious Special Eclipse Award to congratulate them; he was on the road and on the job. “Today I was at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales thanking as many buyers and sellers as I could for supporting us. The Ocala Breeders Sales, Keeneland Sales, Fasig-Tipton Sales, and the Barretts Sales are very instrumental in our success and we can’t thank them enough. Over the course of the year, their support adds up to a lot of funding for the direct care of the horses at TAA accredited aftercare facilities. In fact, sales companies made up 24.6% of our 2013 contributions.”
What exactly is TAA? “The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Foundation (TAA) is an accrediting and funding mechanism set up by leaders in the North American Thoroughbred Racing Industry,” Hastie explained. “As of 2013, we have 23 accredited aftercare partners across the U.S. and Canada. TAA got its start with seed money provided by the Jockey Club, the Breeders’ Cup, and Keeneland Association. Jack Wolf and Madeline Auerbach, prominent owners in the Thoroughbred racing world, brought an impressive group of individuals together who represent various industry constituents, and founded TAA.”
How large of an organization is TAA? “Right now, I am the only full-time employee, and thanks to the seed money investors I mentioned, 100% of the funds raised for aftercare in 2013 went directly to care for the horses being retired, retrained, and/or adopted out of the TAA accredited aftercare facilities. The Jockey Club donates my office space, phones, computers, and other administrative services. We have a roster of a few dozen volunteer site inspectors, as our accredited aftercare partners agree to live up to our Code of Standards which includes surprise inspections, and I just welcomed my first intern, Taylor Burns, a student from the University of KY. I am also in the process of recruiting an assistant from the U.S. Equestrian Federation.”
These are exciting times for TAA indeed: an award, expansion.“The Special Eclipse Award we just received was most exciting and was received by TAA in recognition of all the outstanding work being done by the staff and volunteers at TAA accredited aftercare organizations. They are fulfilling TAA’s mission every day by creating opportunities for retired racehorses to enjoy retirement and/or a second career in dressage, cross country, show jumping, endurance riding, pleasure riding, etc.”
How can the average horse person or fan help?“There are so many ways to help. Secure donations can be made through our website. Fundraisers can be organized. I used to work for the Red Cross and have seen the power of third-party fundraisers. They can also reach out to their friends and ask them to make a donation through ThoroughbredAftercare.org. I just read about one young lady who donated her birthday money to her local Thoroughbred aftercare facility after volunteering there.”
What can officials in the racing industry do?“Our funding model suggests small gifts from everyone and anyone enjoying or benefiting from the sport of Thoroughbred racing. We have been asking for .05% from buyers and sellers at sales, and we just asked the top 100 trainers and jockeys to donate the equivalent of .05% of their earnings. That’s a $25 donation for every $50,000 in income, but if everyone involved with Thoroughbred racing included TAA in their annual giving, we would be providing millions of dollars to care for and retrain retired racehorses.
“My goal is to broaden the base of financial support for TAA’s accredited aftercare facilities. Right now, the sales companies, leading industry organizations and stallion owners were the first to step up and provide a solid base from which to grow. Awarding $1,000,000 worth of grants in our first year of operations was definitely a noteworthy milestone. However, once the tracks, training facilities, trainers, jockeys, vets, blacksmiths, advanced deposit wagering companies, shipping companies, feed companies, tack companies, etc. embrace our mission; well, we are talking about an exponential growth in available funding.
“We are looking at making ambassadors of those trainers and jockeys who pledge to donate a percentage of their earnings, individuals who would be proud to wear our TAA brand and promote their support of aftercare. The intern who just joined our team is a successful show jumping athlete and she has been a great ambassador for other charities. We believe it will work with the personalities in racing too.”
What are your goals for the immediate and extended future of TAA? “In regards to our fundraising, I am reminded of the times at the Red Cross after a big disaster destroyed an entire town and families had lost loved ones, their homes, and all of their belongings. Just as the Red Cross provided an opportunity for displaced families to start over, we want to provide an opportunity for a growing number of Thoroughbreds at TAA accredited facilities to enjoy a comfortable retirement or a fulfilling secondary career. And, as we accredit more aftercare facilities and more Thoroughbreds are retrained to perform in other equestrian sports, we are going to need more money to supplement the budgets of our aftercare partners.
“That said; I am very proud that I am in a position to inform our donors and prospective donors that in our first year, thanks to our seed investors, 100% of every dollar raised went to the direct care of these horses. And, looking at 2014, we will spend less than two cents to raise one dollar. Think about this: one gift to TAA supports 23 partners across the U.S. and Canada. Pretty significant return on philanthropic investment for those trying to make the biggest impact with their charitable gift, and I am really proud of that.”
For more information about Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance go to: thoroughbredaftercare.org