In 2008, the Jockey Club announced a check-off program that would enable breeders and owners to contribute money towards Thoroughbred retirement with each horse that they registered. The program began on January 1, 2009.
The registration form offers owner and breeders the opportunity to donate $25, $50, $75, $100 or an amount of their choice; the funds are distributed to Thoroughbred Charities of America and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. The Jockey Club provides $200,000 in addition to the donations, its contribution coming from its profit-making subsidiaries.
A little less than a year ago, I wrote about the program for Thoroughbred Times, detailing the amount of money raised and number of horses registered, talking to breeders about why they do and don’t contribute to the program.
One reason offered for not donating was that the check-off didn’t carry a tax deduction, which donors would receive if they donated on their own. Last July, the Jockey Club announced that future contributions would be eligible as a tax deduction.
According to numbers provided by the Jockey Club, in 2009, approximately $52,000 was donated by breeders registering 32,606 horses, which works out to $1.59 a horse. If each of those horses had been accompanied by a $25 donation, the contribution would have totaled $815,150.
In 2010, the registration contributions totaled approximately $43,000 for 30,669 horses, or $1.40 per registration. $25 per horse would have brought in $766,725.
In 2011, the number of certificates of foal registration issued was 27,309; those registrations raised $45,442 ($1.66/registration). $25 per registration would have equaled $682,725.
In releasing the 2011 numbers, the Jockey Club noted that registration is an open-ended process–breeders and owners can register a horse of any age at any time— so it’s possible that there may have been instances over the three years of the program in which the owner/breeder started the registration process before the check-off option was available.
The contribution numbers on their face are dismaying, certainly, and it’s worth pointing out that a number of breeders and owners contribute generously on their own, through financial donations, through stallion seasons donated to auctions, and through their own retirement programs, such as Adena Springs’ retirement program and Three Chimneys’ informal program of connecting horses who need help with owners and breeders. Based on my conversations with owners and breeders, the numbers belie the seriousness with which Thoroughbred retirement is considered by many in the industry.
Still: you can’t get away from them, especially at a time when the racing public is more focused than ever on what happens to horses when their racing careers are over, and when too many people are too easily convinced that that the people who benefit from racing care only about money and not about horses.
The Jockey Club program isn’t the only way for breeders and owners to contribute, and I can understand and respect those who want to choose the charities to which they want to contribute, and how they want to contribute. They don’t have to donate through this program in order to prove that they are participating responsibly in the game. But if they’re not going to use this program, I hope that they’ll take steps to share what they are doing. It will be good for them, it will be good for racing, and most of all, it will be good for the horses.