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Robin Foster

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Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation Hay Drive to Aid Puerto Rican Horses

Immortal Wink, who was running in Puerto Rico last year, enjoys retirement in his home state of Florida.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is using its annual Hay Drive to assist efforts to feed nearly 900 horses at Camarero racetrack in Canovanas, Puerto Rico. The track, which is located about 15 miles southeast of San Juan, was devastated by Hurricane Maria, leaving the horses stranded in barns where the roofs had been ripped off, without access to sufficient food and fresh water.

“In the spirit of horse organizations helping each other,” TRF will give 50 percent of Hay Drive donations received between now and Sunday, Oct. 1, to Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare Inc.

Diana Pikulski, TRF’s national director of major giving, said the group decided to work with the CTA because the two organizations have partnered before. In June 2016, TRF and CTA joined forces to bring home Immortal Wink, a 10-year-old Florida-bred gelding running in Puerto Rico, and retire him to a TRF facility in the United States.

“We worked with them before and we know how hard they work and we know what they’re up against on a good day in the Caribbean, with the number of horses that are down there and the circumstances for keeping horses there,” Diana explained. “We know how hard it is and how incredibly expensive it is and how little land there is to keep horses. It’s amazing the job they do.”

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, causing catastrophic destruction and leaving the entire island without power and communications.

Shelley Blodgett, CTA co-founder, told Thoroughbred Daily News, “There are 864 U.S. Thoroughbreds (all Jockey Club registered) stabled at Hipodromo Camarero Racetrack. … The racetrack, including the barns, was heavily damaged during Hurricane Maria. Further, the horses cannot leave their stalls due to debris, downed fencing and flooding.”

Having worked with CTA before, Pikulski and the TRF knew that the best and fastest way to get help to the horses in Puerto Rico would be to utilize the fundraising mechanism of its own annual hay drive, which was already underway, and to reach out to those who were already well acquainted with the problems of horse care in the Caribbean.

“We thought having somebody who was there, knowing exactly what the logistics are — horse people on the ground — seemed like the best option for us,” she said. “And that was also why we felt lucky that we had a partnership there already, because from our end we wouldn’t know what to do.”

This is the ninth year of the TRF’s Hay Drive, which began on Sept. 11. Donations for horses in Puerto Rico will be accepted through Oct. 1, but overall fundraising efforts will continue until the organization’s original goal of $300,000 to provide wintertime forage for its own herd of nearly 800 horses, at 24 retirement facilities spread across nine states, is met.

This year’s drive kicked off with an announcement that every donation up to a total of $50,000 would be matched by the Geoffrey Hughes Foundation, a charitable organization based in New York City.

Besides the TRF, other horse welfare organizations and industry groups are working tirelessly to help the horses in Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean that also suffered the disastrous impact of this month’s series of hurricanes.

Keith Klein, the director of industry relations for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, told Daily Racing Form that the AAEP was coordinating with the United States Department of Agriculture to provide supplies to horses in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, where three other racetracks suffered heavy damage. However, efforts have been hampered by the widespread power outages and communications problems that have complicated general relief efforts for residents.

Other organizations providing funds and assistance include The Jockey Club and the United States Equestrian Federation. Daily Racing Form reported that The Jockey Club will be making its own donation to the AAEP. Meanwhile, the USEF announced that it is extending the appeals for contributions to its Equine Disaster Relief Fund, which recently received more than $400,000 for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Pikulski said that Immortal Wink, a war horse who ran 142 times and earned just over $110,000, is now at Lowell Correctional Institution, the TRF’s facility in Ocala, and is “one of our all-time favorites.”

“We just thought, ‘Wow, the horses that are still down there really, really need some help and we have a great story, we have a great following, we have a connection with this organization that does incredible work in the Caribbean, so here’s an opportunity for us to help.’”

Click here to buy a bale of hay (or two! or more!) to aid Puerto Rican horses impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

Central Park Arena Eventing Relay: A Fan’s Notes

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

I’m a fan of three-day eventing and I live on Long Island, which is kind of like being a surfing fan who lives in the desert. When I heard that the Central Park Horse Show was suddenly substituting arena eventing for its originally scheduled Saturday night dressage class, I knew I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to see some marquee riders and a few of my favorite horses in the flesh, even though I had serious doubts about the format.

Also, to be fair, the bright-lights, big-city aura of the venue had limited appeal for me. I have lived and worked in New York, but I never loved being there, and one of the things I treasure about eventing is being out on a cross-country course, savoring the flavor of each site — the bright autumn colors of Fair Hill; the crickets chirping among the stone ruins at Plantation Field; the rolling hills of Millbrook; and the vast green meadows of the Kentucky Horse Park.

“This isn’t going to be real eventing,” I kept warning my husband, who spent his professional life handicapping and writing about Thoroughbred racing, but had never been to a horse show of any kind. He had also developed a serious aversion to sport coats since retiring last year, but I had read somewhere that the dress code would be smart-casual/cocktail attire, so he dutifully complied, and off we went.

As is usually the case in New York, getting there was much more than half the battle. I had tried to map out the location of the arena, Wollman Rink, with little success. There was nothing on the CPHS website, and an online diagram of the park showed the skating rink as vague light-green blob near the zoo, but a direct route did not reveal itself. “Oh, well,” I thought, “there will probably be signs.” There weren’t.

Too late—the next day, in fact—I finally saw the fine print at the bottom of the tickets we had printed out at home, saying that the best park entrance was Central Park South. We made the mistake of trying to come in via Fifth Avenue.

One of the odder characteristics of New York is that no one has ever been able to tell me where something is — in this case, not a crossing guard, not the guy in the falafel truck, not fellow pedestrians, and, incredibly, not the two young female cops buying water from the falafel guy.

“I’m really sorry,” said one of the officers, adding, “I think it’s over that way. Some people just went through the zoo.”

We wandered along the zoo’s nearly deserted walkways and past silent buildings, with night falling and my anxiety rising. It probably didn’t help that I had recently re-watched part of “Cat People.” Up ahead in the twilight, I saw a security guard starting to close the tall wrought-iron gates.

“Don’t worry, we’re not going to get locked in the zoo,” my husband joked.

I finally spotted a small sign for Wollman Rink, but the path led to an underpass, which was now almost completely dark. I peered into the tunnel and didn’t see anyone lurking, but we walked a little faster and I took my husband’s arm.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

“I’m not going to be a Law and Order opening,” I said, as an incantation.

Eventually, the glow of lights and the sound of a band led us in the right direction. My adrenalin started pumping again as I glimpsed a corner of the ring and spotted the tall, lean figure of Boyd Martin striding around the arena with his purposeful but slightly gimpy gait. The other riders were also out briskly walking the course, and I blurted, “There’s Jennie Brannigan! That’s William Fox-Pitt!”

Our reserved seats were in the fourth row, right on top of the action, which was great except for not having a clear view of the back corner of the ring, where a mysterious bank jump made me think that the first couple of competitors had made some kind of scary mistake. That jump bothered me all night, especially when Lisa Marie Fergusson’s magnificent Honor Me, a 17.1-hand chestnut who is amazingly quick and agile, apparently tried to clear it all at once.

The small ring lent a slot-car-track quality to the arena, and I couldn’t help wincing when horses twisted in midair over a jump to make a sharp turn. Winning East Village team member Dom Schramm later said that he had mentally apologized to his horse — “Sorry, mate, I wouldn’t normally ride you like this” — and while he may have been joking, his words echoed what I had felt. The announcers kept urging the riders to step on the gas and were trying to whip up the crowd to cheer, but there were also plenty of gasps when a hoof would meet an immovable wooden obstacle with a loud “clonk.”

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

So, as a spectator, how would I rate the entire experience?

The amenities were a little disappointing, given the supposed glitziness of the Big Apple, and our smart-casual attire, which might have been appropriate in the VIP section, was the exception in a largely jeans-and-T-shirt crowd. The concession-stand service was slow, and my slightly sour-tasting turkey-and-cheddar panini definitely fell into the category of “For Fuel Purposes Only.” I had hoped there might be some cool horsey merchandise, but the small vendor area offered nothing but a thinned-out selection of apparel. At least there were real bathrooms with running water — a horse-show rarity.

For me, the single best thing was getting to enjoy the athleticism and heart of a horse like Cambalda, who, at age 15, was “turning and burning” with the best of them less than a week after finishing second in the CIC three-star at Plantation Field. I also gained a new appreciation for riders whom I had only seen previously on live streams, or from a distance at bigger events.

On the whole, though, the Arena Eventing Relay had the artificial taste of a gimmick or an exhibition, and I would be surprised if it satisfied most existing eventing fans or made any new ones. To steal a phrase from the author David Foster Wallace — no relation — I think it was a supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again.

Robin Foster is an editor and writer and has worked for The Thoroughbred Record, The Racing Times, and Daily Racing Form. She is an avid supporter of greyhound adoption and off-track Thoroughbreds.