As I’ve read responses over the last few days to what I wrote about Thoroughbred retirement, here (below) and in Thoroughbred Times, two ideas have come up repeatedly: the sport needs a commissioner and mandatory money needs to be set aside – from purses, from breeders’ fees, from wagers – and put towards Thoroughbred retirement.
I’ve spent a good bit of time in the car the last few days (Gulfstream –> Ocala –> Southwest Florida), with ample time to mull over these ideas, and by the time I hit my destination last night, I found myself thinking more about the obstacles inherent in these proposals than about their benefits.
Let’s start with the commissioner. So somehow, you get all the various racing jurisdictions in this country to agree to be governed by one commissioner or group of people. And that person or group mandates that x% has to be extracted from purses, entry fees, wagers, whatever. Then what?
Now there’s all this money sitting around waiting to be used for Thoroughbred retirement. Where does it go? Without trying too hard, I can name at least half a dozen rescue/retirement organizations; there are dozens, possibly hundreds, across the country. Which of them get the money? Even if, in addition to the commissioner, we get a panel to approve certain organizations, does each of those accredited groups get a little piece of the pie? Is the money earmarked for certain horses’ retirement? Does each horse get a little bank account, like a 401K, that he gets to activate when he gets retired? How do owners ensure that the money they’re contributing will go to support their horses?
And who decides where the horses will go? Say I’m an owner with a horse that I want to retire because he’s not competitive any more. Do I get to decide where he’ll go? Do I get to pick the farm? Suppose I don’t want to retire him; I want to sell him, to be a show horse or a companion animal – am I allowed to do that? Whose approval do I need to make decisions about what is, after all, MY horse?
Over the year or so I’ve spoken with two breeders – unrelated to the article I wrote – who have told me why they don’t support the Jockey Club check-off program. Last spring, one said that it’s because she wanted to pick the organization to which the money went. While she supported the Jockey Club program in theory, she didn’t want someone else deciding where her money went.
More recently, one told me that she didn’t donate because there was no way to account for where the money went, or whether it would in fact do her horses any good. These both seem reasonable responses, and I don’t yet see how either would be addressed by a nationally overseen program.
And then there’s the issue of responsibility: the good news about mandatory programs is that the responsibility for Thoroughbred retirement is dispersed. But that’s the bad news, too: as I wrote on Monday, it takes the responsibility away from those whose primary obligation it is to take care of the horses: the people who own them. Passing that responsibility on to others lets those owners off the hook.
I’d love to hear from those of you that think it IS the answer. What am I missing? How would it work? Is it manageable in ways that I’m not seeing?