How the Pre-Preakness Party Helps Maryland's Retired Racehorses

Jessica Hammond with Florida Lady, left, a 20-year-old pony, center, and Therestishisry, right, all retired through Beyond the Wire. (Photos courtesy of Jessica Hammond)

The America’s Best Racing Pre-Preakness Party, presented by Sagamore, is back and bigger than ever this year. Highlighted by a “Preakness Preview” handicapping panel, the party kicks off a great weekend of racing at Pimlico Race Course.

Not only the unofficial kickoff to Preakness Stakes week, the event will also highlight Thoroughbred aftercare and raise funds for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) and Beyond the Wire.

TAA Marketing and Communications Manager Erin Shea talked to Beyond the Wire's Program Administrator Jessica Hammond about the program, how Beyond the Wire works with the TAA and the Maryland community, and the upcoming Pre-Preakness party.

Editor’s note: A portion of this interview first appeared in the BloodHorse Daily in May 2018.

Erin Shea: How excited is Beyond the Wire to be a beneficiary of this year’s Pre-Preakness party?

Jessica Hammond: We are extremely excited to be involved in the Pre-Preakness Party along with our friends at ABR and TAA! It is a big celebratory event that we attend every year anyway so we are even more excited that proceeds from tickets and silent auction items will be supporting Maryland racing's aftercare initiative.

ES: How does Beyond the Wire (and the TAA-accredited organizations it works with) help the local Maryland racing community?  

Jessica Hammond visiting horses at Laurel Park. (Courtesy of Jessica Hammond)

JH: Beyond the Wire is an industry-wide initiative between the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the Maryland Jockey Club, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, and Maryland jockeys. The organization is a first exit from racing program designed to facilitate safe and enriching placements for retiring Maryland-based racehorses.

Generous annual pledges by involved organizations, in addition to owners' contributions of $11 per start, enables Beyond the Wire to place retired Thoroughbreds exclusively with Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited farms. Horses that go through the program receive retraining and rehabilitation as needed.

Another very important goal of the program is to provide education and advocacy surrounding the issue of responsible retirement of racehorses. After all, these versatile horses are the grand centerpieces of the sport, and we believe, as such, deserve the best from their human partners.

ES: When a trainer has a horse that needs to retire, what does Beyond the Wire do? What's the process of the horse going from the track to a new off-track home?

JH: When a trainer and owner decide to retire a horse, they contact me and fill out an intake form. I evaluate the horse along with a track veterinarian to assess overall health and soundness, while noting any other pertinent information such as temperament, vices, etc. I also take a picture of the horse for our website and to send to the receiving facility so that they can see the horse they are considering taking.

All of the facilities we use are accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. Once a program accepts the horse, I set up shipping and send them, along with a stipend, to be retrained, rehabilitated if needed, and ultimately adopted.

ES: Why does Beyond the Wire like to work with TAA-accredited organizations?

JH: Working with TAA-accredited facilities gives us reassurance that we are sending our horses to places that offer the highest standards of care.

We can also be assured that accredited programs are skilled in the handling and retraining of Thoroughbreds, have decent facilities, and are financially responsible with the donations and grants they are given. TAA does all of the legwork by evaluating facilities in person and requiring those programs to successfully complete a rigorous application process. They even require programs to be re-accredited at regular intervals.

Lastly, all of our facilities will also take a horse back at any time for any reason—that type of safety net is invaluable to us and our horses.

ES: How have the first few years been for Beyond the Wire, and what's the reaction been from the racing community? Any unexpected challenges that you had to address?

JH: The first year has been great. We have placed about 180 horses so far and almost half of them have already been adopted.

I honestly can't say that there have been any unexpected challenges. I came into this work with a decent amount of experience having been an owner, with a husband who was a trainer. We both have a passion for aftercare and had already been supporting local efforts. There are challenges, but none that are unexpected. I work with a flexible board that is willing to make adjustments quickly as necessary, which helps maintain efficiency. Ultimately, the Maryland racing industry wants a functional and successful program. Beyond the Wire really benefits from the support of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the Maryland Jockey Club, and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, both financially and professionally.

The racing community has definitely been appreciative of the program, which is an industry-wide initiative. Most owners and trainers prioritize a safe retirement for their horses, and I think there is already a great amount of confidence in our program in that regard.

ES: What are the future plans for Beyond the Wire?

JH: We have begun to offer continuing education opportunities and that facet of Beyond the Wire that will continue.

Our first seminar was with veterinarian surgeon Dr. Patty Hogan, and was attended by about 70 trainers, assistant trainers, and owners. I have been in communication with a few professors at the University of Kentucky that are affiliated with the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, to create a new upcoming seminar.

It is important to the health and wellbeing of racehorses that the people handling them and making decisions for them are as educated as possible in regards to medical and training issues.             

ES: What would you tell someone who is looking to get a similar program off the ground in their area?

JH: I would tell them to just get started. There are so many resources available now with existence of the TAA and a national network of programs that are doing great work. Make phone calls, read articles, talk to your horsemen, drum up support from your local industry members, and reach out to the programs you admire.

We are all in this to help racehorses live full lives and to ensure a continuing, thriving racing industry. The vast majority of people who work in aftercare are happy to share their time and experience—we went to Take the Lead in New York to get ideas before starting our program.

I would also tell people to remind fellow owners, trainers, grooms, and so on, that we live in a different world than we did 20 years ago and when it comes to animal welfare and this is a good thing. Aftercare for our racehorses is now an expectation from the public and the public has clout in regards to the survival of our sport. Remind people of this and then get to work helping the animals and the sport that we all love.

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