Here’s the bottom line about Fort Erie’s racehorses: They won’t be going homeless.
Nor are they headed for the glue factory.
That’s the word from people involved with the historic 115-year-old track – which is slated to close next month – as well as from officials in Fort Erie, some of whom continue to work behind the scenes to keep the racetrack open for the coming year.
“We didn’t hear of anybody that’s going to be disposing of any horses, or anything like that,” said Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin. “The horse owners really get attached to their horses, so that’s something they wouldn’t be considering.”
If the track closes, the horses would either race a schedule that does not include Fort Erie next season or, for horses ready to retire, be turned over to groups that place former racehorses in new homes.
The horses at Fort Erie, which has about 1,000 stalls, are usually stabled at the track for only a portion of the year, sources at the track said.
The rest of the time, the thoroughbreds are moved around to other tracks as part of a “circuit” that horses and trainers follow throughout the racing year. During the winter, the horses are stabled elsewhere, some in Florida.
The Fort Erie racetrack’s chief executive, Jim Thibert, did not return phone calls from The Buffalo News.
But according to Martin, who is among those pressing for the continued operation of the track, the owners and trainers will make sure the horses that typically would go to Fort Erie next season have other tracks or barns to go to, should the track be shuttered.
And, he said, even for horses that do not have futures in racing, the end of the road is not typically gloomy – anymore.
In other words: Racehorses today often have successful and productive “second lives.”
Some area groups will play a role in that, sources said.
“There’s a group of individuals that will be here that will take any horses that are unwanted and would find them new homes,” Martin said.
That group, called Second Start Thoroughbreds, is an Ontario-based organization that has a lengthy track record of placing former racehorses in new homes, said its director, Alexis Kacho-Sinke.
During the past two years, Second Start has placed nearly 300 racehorses in new homes after they were no longer able to continue racing, she said.
“They’re very, very versatile,” Kacho-Sinke said of thoroughbreds. “They have absolutely no problem [adjusting to new careers]. I have 13 or 14 playing polo. I have lots of eventers, lots of hunter jumpers. I have some dressage prospects.”
Some even make good trail-riding and family horses, she said.
“If I can have my horses out there proving themselves all over the place,” Kacho-Sinke said, “that tells the story.”
When harness racing or thoroughbred racing tracks close, it can cause logistical problems, according to Jim Gallagher, executive director at the New York Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association.
In the old days, Gallagher said, there was a concern that animals would be sent to rendering plants, or even set free, when smaller, less well-funded tracks closed.
“You hear all sorts of stories,” he said. “The upkeep of horses is not a cheap expense.”
But these days, Gallagher said, rendering plants are closed; the one closest to Western New York used to be in Pennsylvania, but it shut down a few years ago, he said. And the aftercare for the thoroughbreds involved in racing is much better.
“Somebody in all probability would try to find a second home [for the Fort Erie horses],” Gallagher said, “somewhere where it could be a pleasure horse. There’s all kinds of rehabilitation that takes place. There are all kinds of re-training programs throughout the U.S.”
Kacho-Sinke said Fort Erie has been a good racetrack to work with and that the people at the track have been concerned about making sure retired or injured racehorses that have to leave racing are placed in good second careers.
“This is a track that cares very deeply about what happens to their horses after they retire. In many ways, they are a model for the industry,” she said.
Moreover, in Fort Erie, Martin said he and others working on the issue have not lost hope that live racing will continue at the century-old track, which has been lauded for its old-time atmosphere and picturesque setting.
“We’re still working on maintaining racing for next year. So we’ll see what happens with that,” the mayor said.
Meetings continue between local officials and those from the racing industry, he added.
Martin said the importance of the racetrack’s live thoroughbred racing to the Town of Fort Erie and the surrounding region cannot be overemphasized.
“It’s huge to the Town of Fort Erie,” Martin said. “We’ve had racing here for 115 years, and there’s 1,000 people, directly or indirectly, working at the track. This is a big economic driver for the Town of Fort Erie.”
At Second Start, Kacho-Sinke said that there are emotional scenes when horses have to leave the racetracks where they have raced.
“It’s hard to let them go,” she said of the departing horses. “I can tell you plenty of stories of grown men crying, when that horse they love is loaded on the trailer for the last time.
“They are nothing without those horses. Nothing.”
To learn more about Second Start Thoroughbreds, visit www.secondstartthoroughbreds.org.