A horse hams it up for the camera at the Emerald Downs Prodigious Fund's Thoroughbred Showcase (Photos by Monica Bretherton).
Founded in 2008, Emerald Downs Prodigious Fund started as a way for the track to distribute donations to aftercare facilities based on need.
However, the program lost steam and went inactive in 2010 and stayed that way until Sophia McKee was hired as director of marketing for Emerald Downs in May 2012. Charged with bringing the program back to life, McKee started looking at other programs for inspiration.
“I first studied all of the great programs that were emerging around the country – the Retired Racehorse Retraining Project, the Pimlico Horse Show, Suffolk’s Thoroughbred Showcase – and tried to combine their efforts under one umbrella,” she said. “Ultimately, we wanted to create a model that other racetracks could utilize, while at the same time emphasizing the resources already in place at a given track.”
Her research and goals helped form the program’s mission statement, one that has helped drive the Prodigious Fund forward:
“The Prodigious Fund mission is to recognize and support positive efforts made within the Thoroughbred aftercare community for the re-homing, promotion and care of retired racehorses.”
In 2013, the Prodigious Fund launched three initiatives with a 100-Day Trainer Challenge, a Thoroughbred Showcase for prospective buyers to view horses at the track, and a Thoroughbred Horse Show.
Each of the three initiatives served a different purpose for the program while growing the popularity of the breed at the same time. In addition to the hands-on functions held, the track also showed off the Prodigious Fund’s work during the race meeting in a different way.
“Additionally, Emerald Downs launched ‘Thoroughbreds After The Finish Line,’ a multimedia production that each week featured a different retired racehorse highlighting their new career,” McKee said. “This program was an immediate hit with our fans and horsemen, with each horse receiving a full-page article in our official track program and a two-minute video segment that aired on multiple platforms. … We also posted and archived each horse’s story and video at www.emeralddowns.com. Several owners even brought the featured horse to Emerald Downs so fans could see first-hand how much work is being done with retired Thoroughbreds!”
The program’s hard work has paid off as horsemen have seen the effort it has put in to aftercare and 100-percent of Emerald Downs’ owners and horsemen have opted into contributing toward the fund. Every time its horses run, the program automatically receives a set donation with Emerald Downs matching the contribution up to $10,000.
In addition, show fees and other industry contributions help fund the program with fans also donating to the program.
The program has turned into a collaborative effort between multiple Washington-based racing associations with representatives from Emerald Downs, the Washington Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and the Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association all sitting on the Emerald Downs Prodigious Fund board.
The program also has volunteers from many different areas of the horse world, and it is quick to credit them for its success.
GETTING SOME ATTENTION AFTER A JOB WELL DONE
In addition to the racing industry and program volunteers, the Prodigious Fund also has an excellent relationship with fans and aftercare programs in the area.
“It’s a wonderful relationship because we are pursuing a different set of objectives that complements their efforts to adopt and rehome. Many of our horses featured in Thoroughbreds After the Finish Line were horses rehomed from Second Chance Ranch,” McKee said.
“As far as the public goes, they love it! We have a small racing community and our horses have longevity on the track. Many of the horses here compete exclusively at Emerald Downs. That means our fans follow their favorites and really have an interest in knowing where they go once they retire. When we bring them back for appearances we always hear, ‘I remember that horse from … ’ It’s very satisfying and rewarding.”
After looking at a study done by the Retired Racehorse Training Project, the Emerald Downs Prodigious Fund will be making a few changes for 2014. One of those changes is to help promote its Thoroughbred Showcase by giving grants to 10 trainers.
“For 2014, we will be offering ten $1,000 retraining grants to approved trainers that purchase a horse out of the Thoroughbred Showcase in September,” McKee said. “The grants will help defray some of the costs associated with retraining an off-the-track Thoroughbred. “
THE PRODIGIOUS FUND'S 2013 YEAR IN REVIEW
The Prodigious Fund’s long-term goal is to have a 100-percent strike rate when it comes to transitioning Thoroughbreds off the track into second careers. McKee points out that racehorses have seen more by the time they are 3 years old than many horses see in their lifetimes. They also have the work ethic to match their vast experience, making the breed the perfect horse for nearly anyone.
For members of the Thoroughbred industry, McKee also has some words for those wondering why aftercare is so important.
“Thoroughbred aftercare and promotion is extremely important for the industry right now,” she said. “Therefore, it is our responsibility as track management to take an active role to expand and further the positive efforts in Thoroughbred aftercare. It is the right thing to do for the horse.”
For tracks interested in starting a program similar to the Emerald Downs Prodigious Fund, McKee encourages them to contact her at (253) 288-7719 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Call me! I’ll share the structure of the program inside and out,” she said. “We built everything from scratch, so we can help a track identify what they already have and go from there. Existing staff and volunteers executed each of our programs. We spent no additional dollars toward launching these programs. They were all done with human resources and effort, not monetary effort. That should be exciting news to everybody in our industry!”
Fans can learn more about the Prodigious Fund on its Facebook page.