Three-year-olds are horse racing’s glamor division, and taking center stage on Sunday’s 10-race program at Ellis Park is the $200,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Derby and its leading Kentucky Derby contender Art Collector.
But during that 1 1/8-mile race, Art Collector jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. will be bringing attention to horses far from the limelight: retired racehorses and industry efforts toward rehoming them after they’re through at the track. In that regard, Hernandez will be wearing the name Second Stride on his white riding pants in the Ellis Park Derby, the first and pending another pandemic the only Kentucky Derby qualifying race ever to be held at the western Kentucky track.
Trainer Tommy Drury, who is 3 for 3 since receiving Art Collector early this year from owner Bruce Lunsford, is on the advisory board for Second Stride, the accredited thoroughbred rescue and aftercare facility in Prospect and Pleasureville outside of Louisville. Drury, Lunsford and Hernandez hope to gain recognition for Second Stride and the concerted effort by horse racing to find safe homes for its retirees, including retraining many for second careers.
For every Art Collector, there are thousands of horses who don’t have a future breeding career. Founded by horsewoman Kim Smith, Second Stride is among 160 facilities across North America accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance to offer adoption, rehab and equine-assisted programs as well has sanctuary. There are nine TAA accredited programs in Kentucky, all but Second Stride located close to Lexington. Indiana is home to one accredited organization, Friends of Ferdinand in Indianapolis.
“It’s such a good program and a much-needed program,” Drury said. “As trainer, we’d be lost without Second Stride. They find these horses good homes. Kim and her staff do such a great job. This is just kind of saying thanks for everything they’ve done for us.”
Staff by volunteers, Second Stride provides professional rehabilitation, retraining and placement of retired thoroughbred racehorses, adopting out an average of 100 horses a year, including 83 the first seven months of 2020. The program specializes in giving retired thoroughbreds the training they need to succeed in a second and sometimes third profession, such as with horses no longer being bred. The organization is one of the few aftercare facilities that will take male horses that haven’t been gelded.
“We transition them to whatever each individual horse wants to do,” said Smith while watching Art Collector trainer earlier in the week at the Skylight training center in Oldham County. “As Tommy tries to get into their brain when they’re here, we try to get into their brain and figure out what their next mission is going to be. We’ve placed horses in everything from polo, jumping, dressage to family horses. It’s amazing to find out what these horses can do, the thoroughbred, and how versatile they are. Barrel horses, we’ve had some police work — especially a mounted unit that likes the big black horses."
To have Hernandez displaying Second Stride on his leg, Smith said, “For us, it’s just humbling that they would consider us. It’s mind-blowing the national coverage just to get aftercare out there, and all the horsemen are doing for the horses. Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance has been life-changing for our program and for the horses, with the sponsorship we get and also the mentoring and the education they provide our program in how to exceed.
"To have these hometown heroes being at Ellis is just going to be amazing. Tommy helped us set the foundation of the program and Brian Hernandez and his family come to our events and support us. So it’s awesome. We’re just proud of Tommy and Brian and the horse. It’s super exciting.”