By Francis LaBelle

After the challenging year that was 2020, we at TRF knew that 2021 would be another year of “new norms” and many changes to our ways of life. But one thing did not change—the unwavering commitment and support that we receive from our donors, friends, and volunteers. The same kindness we saw in 2020 continued into the new year, enabling us to carry out our important mission. Thanks to our donors and volunteers, we accomplished a great deal this year and we’d like to share a few of the highlights.

Throughout 2021, TRF staff and volunteers remained dedicated to the mission of showing the world just how important the organization is for both humans and horses.

February brought about the official opening of the TRF’s Second Chances Youth Program at the Center for Discovery in Ocala, Fla. In partnership with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, this program is an extension of TRF’s Second Chances Program, which is offered at adult prisons in New York, Kentucky, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland and South Carolina. That program uses former racehorses to give participants hands-on vocational training in equine care. Velvet Saulsberry, the program’s equine director, garnered plenty of attention for TRF’s Second Chances Youth Program with her big personality and big heart. The youth program was an immediate success.

In March, TRF’s 500 horses were able to get essential equine vaccines thanks to a generous donation from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health.

In Aiken, S.C., the TRF was featured in an exhibit at the Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame. Christopher Griffith, a graduate of TRF’s Second Chances at Wateree River, S.C., also told of how Second Chances prepared him to start a new, productive life as manager of a dressage and eventing horse farm in Georgia.

The TRF’s big announcement in April was of the TRF Sanctuary Farm at Chestnut Hall, a 25-acre property in Prospect, KY that would become part of the community, thanks to the generosity of Churchill Downs Chief Executive Officer, Bill Carstanjen, and his family. Alyssa Carinder, a recent graduate of the University of Louisville, was named to manage the 11 retired Thoroughbreds whose purpose would be to help teach the public about the TRF and its purpose through a partnership with Horse Country Tours that brought hundreds of guests to the farm.

On April 15, hundreds of bottles of Woodford Reserve Bourbon went on sale to benefit TRF. These bottles were autographed by trainer Graham Motion, and jockey John Velazquez, to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Animal Kingdom’s Kentucky Derby victory. The promotion was a collaboration between Woodford’s Reserve and Stoneware & Co. and raised tens of thousands of dollars in support of our horses.

June provided a chance for TRF to prepare for a big summer, particularly in its hometown of Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Fans were not allowed at Saratoga Racecourse in 2020 because of the pandemic, so they were eager to return to the storied track when it opened in mid-July.

On July 14, one day before the track opened, the TRF’s most famous horse, Quick Call, received a special honor. A true “Horse for the Course,” Quick Call had won more than half of his career starts at Saratoga, including back-to-back runnings of the prestigious Forego Handicap. Eventually, he found his way to the TRF, and for 18 years before his passing in 2019, he was the face of TRF and its flagship Second Chances program at Wallkill Correctional Facility near New Paltz, N.Y.

Saratoga Springs’ motto is “Health, History and Horses,” but in the summer of 2021, it could have added gumbo to the mix. Gumbo?

Jockey Kendrick Carmouche, recovering from a broken ankle suffered on Belmont Stakes Day, cooked gumbo at the Principessa Elena Society, a local Italian-American social club, to benefit the TRF. The Louisiana native and his wife, Whitney, proved to be extraordinary chefs. We already knew they were extraordinary people.

A similar event was offered in August at Simply Foods by Maura. This time, the chef was Michael Beychok, a National Handicapping Tournament Champion who came armed with a recipe from Brigsten’s Restaurant in New Orleans. Peter Thomas Fornatale, host of In the Money Podcasts and a cherished friend of the TRF, helped make the event a reality.

The best surprise of the summer for TRF came in August when NYRA television personalities Andy Serling and Anthony Stabile had an on-air discussion about who was better at miniature golf. They drew the attention of Kirk Wycoff of Three Diamonds Farm, Lou Lazzinnaro and Sol Kumin. They came up with a pair of two-man teams, got friends to donate and the teams faced off at Goony Golf in Lake George. Wycoff and Serling defeated their rivals by 15 strokes, thanks to Wycoff’s three hole-in-ones. When the last putt was sunk, they had raised $100,000 for the TRF and other racing charities.

The iconic Adelphi Hotel on Broadway in Saratoga Springs was the setting for a tasting sponsored by Casamigo’s Tequila. Racing notables and fans ignored the summer rain to attend and raised funds for the TRF and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF), thanks to the exclusive sale of 100 bottles of Casamigo’s tequila, autographed by the Saratoga jockey colony.

TRF’s biggest summer event, the “BBQ at the Barn,” returned to the Saratoga Winery. Held as a drive-through event the previous year, the sold-out BBQ event was again a live, in-house party. Guests were able to mingle with miniature horses, as well as celebrities like NYRA paddock analyst and TRF Board Member Maggie Wolfendale Morley, former jockey Donna Barton Brothers, and national handicapper Jonathon Kinchen, all while enjoying a sumptuous barbeque.
Further proof of TRF’s high standards was the accreditation of seven more of its facilities by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS). Blackburn, Chestnut Hall, and Nash Farm in Kentucky; Vandalia, Ill.; and South Carolina’s Wateree River, Lowder and Wheeler Farms were all accredited by GFAS and TRF’s other facilities will receive theirs in the coming year. GFAS conducts on-site visits to verify that animal sanctuaries are run properly, humanely, and professionally.

In August, the TRF was treated to a night of music and friendship at Debbie Green’s farm in Sherborn, Mass. The funds raised that day went towards Jade Master, a new intake to our herd who had returned stateside from Puerto Rico.

As summer turned to fall, the TRF kept on going. It launched its annual Hay Drive in October, received accreditation from the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Second Chances Program at Lowell with a virtual “Horse Show.” This was a horse show of a different color, as students/inmates openly told their stories. Acacia Courtney excelled as the interviewer for this moving, inspiring presentation.

TRF’s annual online Holiday Auction was another success. The highest bidder won a private back-stretch tour with the former jockey and popular on-air personality Richard Migliore. The Giving Tuesday appeal raised thousands of dollars for the TRF’s farrier fund. The generosity continued throughout the season with an anonymous donor auctioning off historic racing memorabilia through Leland’s Auctions and donating $15,000 to the TRF herd.

Capitalizing on the beautifully restored farmhouse at Chestnut Hall, a long-time TRF friend and volunteer, Elizabeth Rosenberg, spearheaded the nine-day Holiday Designer Show House. The event featured eight talented designers who transformed the house into a winter wonderland and raised awareness of the TRF mission while bringing holiday cheer to hundreds of visitors who toured the historic home. We are grateful to the roughly 60 volunteers who devoted hundreds of hours to make this event such a great success in its inaugural year and we can’t wait to see what next year brings.

The TRF’s final event for 2021 was a return to the Principessa Elena Society. There, the TRF held a mid-December Happy Hour and Toy Drive for children of New York’s back-stretch workers. The Racetrack Chaplaincy of New York later distributed those toys to the families at a special celebration at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. It was a great way to end the year!

In this year of new partnerships and new friends, we welcomed more than 1,000 new donors who have joined us in support of our mission of saving horses and changing lives. “We are incredibly grateful for all our donors and volunteers, both old and new, who have supported the TRF in so many ways over the past 12 month,” said Executive Director Pat Stickney. “It is heartwarming to know that thousands of people share our passion and love for our Thoroughbreds.”

As the TRF looks forward to 2022, we wish you happiness, peace, and good health this holiday season and throughout the coming year.