A new sound will ring from the Oaklawn winner’s circle this weekend: the peal from a bell emblazoned with, “This bell rings for the love and respect of the horse.” Recently installed, a winning connection who dedicates a portion of the purse to aftercare is invited to ring it.
These donations go to the Arkansas Thoroughbred Retirement Program, which was established in 2021 by the Arkansas HBPA (Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association) and Oaklawn Park. This organization helps Oaklawn-raced Thoroughbreds find second homes and careers.
The idea for the bell came from trainer Ron Moquett, an Arkansas HBPA board member who has conditioned many Oaklawn fan favorites, including 2020 champion sprinter Whitmore.
“Our board is always looking for innovative ways to bring attention to and help the people and the horses in our sport,” Moquett said. “We want to send a message about caring for our athletes when their racing careers are over.”
Moquett said he thought about the bell at Saratoga. When it rings, horsemen know they have seven minutes to get to the paddock.
“When ours rings, and people ask, ‘what does that bell mean?’ it will mean that people are talking about retired racehorses,” he said.
Moquett believes that the majority of the people in the industry are there for the love of the animal.
“There’s a lot of us in the background and the undercurrent doing everything we can to protect the horses,” he said. “We want to give people an avenue to make doing the right thing easy. I would like for people to be proud that they are proactively ensuring that horses that race at Oaklawn Park will be cared for.”
Jeanette Milligan, executive director of the Arkansas HBPA, said any amount from a connection is welcome: anywhere from $200 to $1000 or beyond. The funds will transfer from the purse earnings directly to the aftercare program for an effortless, seamless transaction.
“Everyone is the happiest when they win a race and are in the winner’s circle,” Milligan said. “It’s a great time to ask someone to spread the happiness and love and donate.”
The Arkansas Thoroughbred Retirement Program has taken in 27 retired racehorses since it formed in 2021. Jan Pettinger — who has been a pony rider at Oaklawn for more than 35 years — provides the foster farm and works with them.
Then the horses are eligible for the adoption process. So far, 18 have been adopted. Some have gone on to be pleasure horses, show horses, hunter jumpers, dressage horses, and therapy horses.
Only two weekends remain in Oaklawn’s season. Milligan said they are looking forward to taking the momentum from the bell’s first tones into the next season and growing the program.
The Jockey Club supports many aftercare initiatives including the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, the only accrediting body in aftercare, and Thoroughbred Incentive Program (T.I.P.), which encourages the retraining of Thoroughbreds into other disciplines upon completion of careers. View all of the initiatives supported by The Jockey Club.