Where do they go? Importance of horse tracing after racing highlighted

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Racing industry administrators have emphasised the importance of traceability of horses after their racing career is over, with an “elongated duty of care” noted.

Several delegates from around the world converged earlier in the week for the second session of the International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses (IFAR) 2021 virtual series. It was moderated by Australia-based broadcaster Caroline Searcy.

All four speakers discussed the traceability measures that their organizations use or have developed to keep track of racehorses throughout their lives. Additionally, they suggested that having a dedicated individual or resource to contact through an administrative or regulatory body was an instrumental part of driving change toward prioritizing aftercare.

Aidan Butler, chief operating officer of 1/ST Racing and president of 1/ST Content in the US, was among the speakers. 1/ST operates Gulfstream Park, Golden Gate Fields, Santa Anita Park, and venues under the umbrella of the Maryland Jockey Club. Butler spoke of efforts of 1/ST Racing to track horses at their racing facilities and to coordinate with accredited aftercare organizations to place horses that need homes. All of 1/ST’s racing sites have a fulltime Thoroughbred placement liaison who is accessible to horsemen 24/7.

“It is fundamentally important to aftercare to know where horses are going when they have left the racetrack,” Butler said.

He also remarked that “things had changed” for the positive in terms of how the Thoroughbred industry considers aftercare and “elongating our duty of care to the horse”.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing’s Welfare & Sustainability general manager Martin Burns discussed the aftercare landscape in New Zealand and the increased investment in traceability measures in that jurisdiction, where the “culture of compliance” on the importance of submitting this data is developing. He also emphasized how effective aftercare practices, including stories of post-racing successes, are part of the strategy of repelling anti-racing sentiment.

“Communications must convey accountability and responsibility,” Burns said. “Robust data is important but not everything. Anecdotal stories are compelling. We must be able to convey information that ensures ongoing public trust in racing.”

Simon Cooper of Weatherbys in Britain lauded the benefits of the Weatherbys e-passport over paper documentation, which he described as the key barrier to effective traceability. The digital passport enables immediate documentation of major events in a horse’s life, from an owner change and traveling to notification of retirement and vaccinations.

Cooper believes that documentation of these events in a horse’s life should be mandatory and be submitted to a horse’s records within a certain time frame of their occurrence.

“Education and communication is an incredibly important part of this,” he said.

Racing and Wagering Western Australia (RWWA) animal welfare manager Dr Anna Smet described the racehorse welfare plan established by RWWA in 2019, which has resulted in the creation of the Off-the-Track WA Retraining Program and a digital passport to track horses. The goal of the retraining program is to complement established pathways for rehoming post-racing and to provide an alternate option for horses that are not selected by retrainers or sold/gifted easily, such as those in remote locations.

“At the end of the day, the horses are really the champions of the sport,” Smet said. “It’s really important that we’re doing everything we can to set them up for success after racing.”

The third session of the 2021 IFAR is scheduled for April 20 at noon (GMT) is on “Global Insights on Aftercare (Aftercare Providers, Equine Charities).” It will be moderated by Donna Brothers, who is part of the racing coverage team for NBC Sports in the United States. Panelists will include Stacie Clark, operations consultant, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (US); Lisa Coffey, founder and director, Racing Hearts (AUS); John Osborne, director of Equine Welfare and Bloodstock, Horse Racing Ireland; Dr. Ignacio Pavlovsky, veterinarian, owner, and breeder (ARG); and Kristin Werner, senior counsel, The Jockey Club and administrator, Thoroughbred Incentive Program (US).

The first webinar in the series “Aftercare – Racing’s Responsibility” was moderated by international racing broadcaster Nick Luck (UK) and featured a panel composed of Yogi Breisner MBE, equestrian coach (UK); Jessica Harrington, trainer (IRE); Graham and Anita Motion, owners, Herringswell Stable (US); and Nemone Routh, racing office manager, Aga Khan Studs (FR).

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