by Teresa Genaro

A couple of dozen Thoroughbreds took to the track at Pimlico last weekend, but not to run in a race. There was no starting gate, no betting, and no jockeys, but more than 600 people bought tickets to see what the horses could do beyond competing in a horse race.

[boxify cols_use =”2″ cols =”5″ position =”left” order =”none” box_spacing =”5″ padding =”5″ border_width =”2″ border_color =”blue” border_style =”solid” height =”85″ width =”50″ ]To hear a 45-second clip of Georganne Hale discussing how the Makeover came to Pimlico…[sc_embed_player fileurl=”http://www.theracingbiz.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/ghaleintvwsnippet.mp3″][/boxify]The Retired Racehorse Training Project took over the Baltimore track for the two-day Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, bringing together ex-racehorses and their new trainers; rescue, retirement, and retraining programs; and racing industry organizations to share ideas about how best to develop and sustain Thoroughbred aftercare programs.

Trainers offered advice on working with off-track Thoroughbreds; veterinarians identified common physical issues in OTTBs; and horses performed in a variety of disciplines, including polo, cattle cutting, dressage, and cross country.

Earlier this year, Pimlico hosted the Totally Thoroughbred Horse Show, part of the Thoroughbred Alliance Show Series, at which RRTP president Steuart Pittman, Jr. served as a judge.

“He was looking for a perfect place to have this event,” said Georganne Hale, director of racing and racing secretary at the Maryland Jockey Club, “and once he saw the horse show, he realized, ‘Wow—we could put a lot of people in here.’

“He came to us and asked if he could have his event here, and he got it done.”

In May, RRTP selected 26 trainers from 142 applicants to participate in the Thoroughbred Makeover; those trainers chose horses who hadn’t yet received any post-race training and blogged about the experience of introducing a horse to a second career.

“I think the story here is that all racehorses have the prospect of doing something else,” said RRTP vice president Carolyn Karlson. “Horses are like people: they’ve got different strengths, and I think the beauty of this weekend is that we’re able to showcase 10 different disciplines.”

The participants came from widely varying backgrounds. Stud Muffin, a multiple stakes winner, retired at age eight with earnings of over $670,000. Bold Vindication raced until he was seven, but notched only three wins from 62 starts. Three-year-old Armelda made only two starts before retiring with earnings of $620.

What they all have in common is that they were retired sound enough to be retrained, a message that Hale thinks was conveyed to the people who make the decisions about retiring their horses.

“I think this has showed a lot of owners that their horses can do something else,” she said. “It’s educational for everybody here.”

And education, said RRTP’s Karlson, is what the organization is all about.

“We don’t go get the horses and retrain them,” she explained. “Our mission is educational, but it’s also collaborative.

Victory Money shows his chops during Sunday's Thoroughbred Makeover.

Victory Money shows his chops during Sunday’s Thoroughbred Makeover.

“The racing industry has a lot of fragments, and the communication that exists between those fragments isn’t always perfect. One of the things we wanted to do was to bring people together. Events like this and publicity like this means that people who aren’t here see it, too, that’s what gets the conversation going.”

And it appears that the conversation started last weekend will keep going. Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas attended the event on Saturday and, according to Hale, is already talking about hosting the event next year.

“We were thrilled to have him here,” said Karlson. “He said, ‘We endorse you, we support you, and we’d love to have you back next year because this is what racing needs.”

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