While he's employed as an athlete, your average racehorse will traditionally receive top-notch care from a variety of racetrack professionals. He gets a trainer dedicated to enhancing his fitness through closely monitored exercise and adroit nutritional calculations. He gets a veterinarian who monitors stiffness, soreness, and medicinal needs. And he gets a swath of grooms and caretakers that cater to his gleaming appearance and regimented feeding/bathing/training schedule.
Difficulties can arise, however, surrounding the subject of his welfare, both prior to his first stint at the in-gate (if he's pushed too hard early on while training), and after he crosses his final finish line (when he enters the wide unknown of his retirement). Debates have long raged over whether a horse should be raced while still a juvenile because his youthful two-year-old frame may not be physically developed enough to withstand the rigors of the activity. And once a horse reaches the end of his usefulness as a racehorse, if he is not funneled into one of the retirement systems that exist in the country, he likely faces a very perilous road with an inglorious ending.
When I read, therefore, of professionals in the industry working to mitigate these risks by questioning outdated standards and practices, or stepping up to advocate for a horse who's down on his luck, I feel compelled to report on the work being done. I was greatly interested by a recent article at The Saratogian concerning the trend towards increasing racehorse career longevity by delaying the start of a horse's racing until its three-year-old year. This gives the horse more opportunity to mature into an athlete, and as the amaz-a-mare Zenyatta can attest, can have a marked positive impact on its long term success. (The only caveat is if you are looking to campaign your horse in the Derby, as no unraced two-year-old has ever gone on to win the roses at three.) This slow shift away from racing history's precedent of heavy two-year-old campaigns implies to me that the industry is racing smarter and with more regard for the individual training and developmental needs of each horse.
And while a great deal more industry prominence has been given to the issue of Thoroughbred retirement in the last few years, there are still owners and trainers who continue to race a horse past its prime. In these instances the horse risks breakdown or severe injury as his athletic demands outpace his declining fitness or increasing age. It some instances it becomes the responsibility of a hawk-eyed bystander to intercede before the horse can meet such a fate. So it was with Delta Storm, a multiple graded-stakes winner and 2009 Breeder's Cup Sprint contender, whose career earnings exceeded $500,000. By June, 2010 he had somehow fallen precipitously through the race grade ranks and ended up in a $3,200 claiming race. As the Paulick Report explains, it was there that he caught the eye of Sharla Sanders and The Second Race retirement organization. The Second Race stepped in, took ownership of Delta Storm and shipped him to a long term care facility where he will be fully retired. Considering that his trainer Steve Myadi was "unapologetic" about the decision to race Delta Storm at the very lowest ranks, those responsible for ensuring his safety and seeing to his retirement were very certainly in the right place at the right time. Who knows how Delta Storm may have ended up had he proved unsuccessful as a claimer.
I am glad to see industry participants continuing to advocate for the Thoroughbreds and challenging the status quo when neccesary. Every horse that makes it through his career without injury or breakdown and goes on to a fulfilling life post-racing is a success story.