By Jean Amick
Your Voice Contributor
Even though I had lived in Kentucky for 10 years, attending every Derby, I had never thought about it. Not until I joined a large racehorse syndicate and got to know French Reign, a mare the group had just claimed for $15,000.
The syndicate manager explained, â€œWe claimed this one because we think she has potential if run on grass.Â She is older than most runners: 5 years old. If she doesnâ€™t do well on grass, or at her age decides she is just done with racing, then her bloodlines and past race record make her a good prospect to be a broodmare.â€
I was warned by the racing manager the first time I gave French Reign a peppermint, which she delicately lifted off my open palm, that I would now be hooked on Thoroughbreds, never to be the same.Â He was right. I went to visit â€œFrenchieâ€ as she was nicknamed, every chance I got. I just loved being around her. So proud and confident, delicate yet strong. A year later, I had the amazing experience of being there when when she foaled her first filly.
It was when I first looked at Frenchieâ€™s foal, trying to imagine how something so large could have been folded up inside her mother just minutes before, that I imagined what the rest of her life would be like. She would grow up on a beautiful farm in Prospect, where I could visit her often.Â She would then go to a well-respected trainer to â€œlearn some mannersâ€ and then on to race training. I got goosebumps at the thought of seeing her in the Keeneland paddock, picturing her all grown up in her racing gear. I imagined a few Winner Circle photos, and then her retiring to be broodmare like her mother.
But what if she got claimed? I had learned by that time that in U.S. racing, horses at the lower level often need to race in claiming races, in which someone can buy them before the start of the race. What if someone new bought her, and they didnâ€™t have plans to breed her? Then what would she do when she retired from racing?Â I asked around, and no one seemed to know. I was told there were a couple of equine charities that might take in a retired Thoroughbred, but they had long waiting lists to get in, and none were in the Louisville area.
It was strange how I felt responsible for this little filly. So much time and research went into the choice for her sire, who her trainer would be, where she would race. It didnâ€™t seem right that once her racing career was over, no one could really say where she would spend the next 15-20 years.
While I was asking questions, I was told I should talk to Kim Smith, the manager of the farm where Frenchie was boarded. Kim believed that most retired thoroughbreds were best off when retrained for a new career. That way, they could be adopted out to someone who would provide a life for them similar to what they were familiar with: a set schedule where they would be worked with every day. Kim had been doing what she could, taking in retired Thoroughbreds and retraining them at her own cost. Once a thoroughbred was retrained, she networked with her many friends in the Show Horse world, where they often found the success that had eluded them on the racetrack.
Because her unofficial program was so successful, Kim had considered applying for a 501(c)3 nonprofit designation. She asked me if I would join her as a founding board member, along with a few others who shared the goal of making sure that every retired Thoroughbred could receive the retraining needed to be adopted for a new career. With that, Second Stride was born.
Since that time, over 600 Thoroughbreds have gone through Second Strideâ€™s retraining program and now have wonderful lives as show horses, lesson ponies, trail and pleasure horses -Â really, most anything other breeds can do.
Now I can know that when it is time for Frenchieâ€™s foalâ€™s foals to retire, Second Stride will be there to get them ready for a wonderful life after racing.
On April 28, Molly Maloneâ€™s in the Highlands will host the third annual Derby VIP Party for Second Stride. This year, BetAmerica will be the title sponsor of Second Strideâ€™s major fundraiser of the year.Â The event is a fun, casual alternative to the fancy galas offered Derby week. A suggested $10 donation at the door, along with the proceeds from raffle sales, silent and live auction items, will go to Second Stride. Doors open at 5:30 pm.