The banner event of the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP), a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to increasing demand for retired racehorses in second careers, the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium is the largest and most lucrative Thoroughbred retraining competition in the world — and this year, the RRP pulled off a “Mega-Makeover,” culminating in two competition years’ worth of horses from both the postponed 2020 class and the scheduled 2021 class.
The 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA), took place on October 12-17 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
Between both competition years, 400 horses ultimately arrived and checked in at the Horse Park. They competed in one or two of ten disciplines offered at the Makeover, representing a wide array of equestrian sports to demonstrate the versatility of the Thoroughbred breed.
To be considered eligible to compete at the 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover, horses had to have raced or published a workout after July 1, 2019 and could not have started retraining for a second career before December 1, 2020 other than a maximum allowance of 15 assessment rides. (Eligibility dates for the class of 2020 were the same, but one year earlier.)
Trainers applied over a one-month period the December before their respective Makeover years. Horses could be registered for the Thoroughbred Makeover as soon as they were acquired, with a registration deadline of July 31, 2021. The final entry period was open August 1 through August 15, with trainers selecting one or two disciplines out of the Makeover’s offering of ten: barrel racing, competitive trail, dressage, eventing, field hunter, freestyle, polo, ranch work, show hunter or show jumper. Each Makeover discipline was judged to assess a horse’s foundation of training and potential to succeed in that equestrian sport.
Preliminary competition took place over three days in multiple venues around the Kentucky Horse Park. While the classes of 2020 and 2021 were intermixed in the competition schedule, they were judged separately. The five top-placed horses in each discipline returned to compete in the Finales over the weekend: 2020’s Finale ran on Saturday and 2021’s Finale ran on Sunday. Both Finales were both live-streamed online thanks to support from Maryland Jockey Club.
Finale competition determined the final placings among the top five in each discipline; all of the judges of the Makeover ranked the ten discipline winners to determine each competition year’s Thoroughbred Makeover Champion, sponsored by Churchill Downs. Additionally, a popular vote was opened for both in-person and online spectators to vote for the horse that inspired them the most, to determine the People’s Choice Award, sponsored by Achieve Equine. The People’s Choice Award winner won the right to direct a donation to an equine-related charity of their choice.
The 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover Champion is Thunderous Affair, trained by Lindsey Partridge and winner of both Competitive Trail and Freestyle. Bred in Kentucky by Jim Williams, this unraced 2017 16.2 hand gray/roan mare by Liaison out of the Thunder Gulch mare Thunder Fan never raced (though she did train to race), and was placed with Partridge through CANTER Michigan. Partridge is no stranger to the Makeover, being a regular Finale competitor and previous Thoroughbred Makeover Champion in 2015.
The 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover Champion is Forthegreatergood, trained by Laura Sloan and winner of the Field Hunter discipline. Bred, trained, and raced in Maryland by Donna Lockard, the 2015 16.1 hand gray/roan gelding is by Scipion out of the Langfuhr mare No Peeking. Sloan, a previous Field Hunter judge at the 2016 Thoroughbred Makeover, acquired the horse through his racing connections.
“This year’s horses came to compete,” said Jen Roytz, RRP executive director. “The 2020 class of competitors who had an extra year to prepare their horses used that time to elevate their horses’ condition and get them into more show venues, and the results were an impressive array of seasoned, well-presented competitors. The 2021 class, which was trained on our traditional 10-month timeline, was no less impressive. The professionalism and talent they showed in their respective disciplines was a testament to the time and skill invested in their post-racing training. By and large it was the most well-prepared group of horses we’ve ever welcomed to the competition.”
Full results and scoring for both competition years can be found here. The Mega-Makeover also included a full roster of special awards, sponsored by various organizations and associations to recognize a variety of horses: find special award winners listed here.
The Arrival Exam & Finale Jog
Before competition could begin, however, every horse underwent the Arrival Exam, developed by the RRP in partnership with veterinarians to raise the standard for horsemanship and equine welfare.
Sponsored by Keeneland with additional support from After the Finish Line, Foundation for the Horse, and Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, the Arrival Exam consisted of three parts: a presentation of health certificate and vaccination records at check-in; a stallside exam that included scanning for a microchip, body condition score (horses needed to score a 4.0 minimum on the Henneke body condition scale to be cleared to compete), assessment of vital signs, and brief examination for any physical blemishes or swelling. Horses then presented for a walking soundness exam.
To help trainers prepare for the Arrival Exam, the RRP provided ample educational resources and opportunities throughout 2020 and 2021, including webinars on feeding and nutrition, online articles and information specifically geared towards retired racehorses including gastric health and hoof care, and videos walking trainers through the Arrival Exam process. The RRP’s consulting veterinarian, Dr. Shannon Reed, DVM, of Texas A&M, made herself available to trainers throughout the retraining process to answer questions and address concerns.
New for 2021, all competitors who qualified for the Thoroughbred Makeover Finale presented their horse in-hand for a soundness assessment at the trot before a ground jury. The Finale Jog ensured that horses were fit to compete after a long week at the Kentucky Horse Park.
The ASPCA Makeover Marketplace
Horse shoppers were out in full force at the Thoroughbred Makeover to shop or adopt from the ASPCA Makeover Marketplace. Trainers had the option to list their horses through the Marketplace and take advantage of marketing opportunities by the RRP to draw shoppers and adopters to the event, where they could watch horses compete, take a trial ride in a designated arena, and vet prospects on-site. The Marketplace was once again made possible through the support of the ASPCA.
Close to 150 horses were available for sale or adoption; several sold before they even made it to the Horse Park to compete. Several sold on-site at the Makeover during preliminary competition, adding to the festive feel as new owners clustered ringside to watch their new horses perform.
“I would absolutely recommend shopping the Makeover,” said Linda Wilson, who found her next partner at the Marketplace. “It gives you the opportunity to meet the horse, meet the owners, and then watch how they’re dealing with this environment. Here, you have plenty of time to decide and make a decision.”
Average sales prices of Makeover graduates have been steadily on the rise. Sales data for 2021 is not yet complete as horses will continue to sell throughout the fall and winter, but the average sales price after the 2019 Makeover for graduates was $9,800; this figure is up from the average of $8,000 after 2018.
In partnership with TCA, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, and The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program, the RRP produced the Thoroughbred Aftercare Summit on the first day of preliminary competition at the Makeover. Featuring panelists presenting topics relevant to an audience with a professional interest in Thoroughbred aftercare, this year’s Summit was presented as a hybrid event, welcoming both in-person attendees and virtual viewers who streamed presentations online.
On Friday’s competition “dark day,” the Makeover Master Class, sponsored by Thoroughbred Education and Research Foundation (TERF), took center stage in the TCA Covered Arena. The innovative Master Class, loosely inspired by colt-starting competitions, showcases three recently-retired horses and three participating trainers who demonstrate their own unique approaches to restarting prospects.
Horses were provided for the 2021 Master Class by Second Stride, Inc. and Secretariat Center. Representatives from each organization introduced the horses and shared information about their backgrounds. Participating trainers included Michael Alway of Alway Horsemanship, Aubrey Graham of AP Eventing/Kivu Sporthorses, and AQHA Professional Horseman Robin Stang, assisted by Kristy Hetrick. Commentary was provided by former Olympian Dorothy Crowell and renowned clinician Richard Lamb; the RRP’s Jen Roytz served as emcee.
The TERF Makeover Master Class is available to watch on-demand.
On Friday afternoon, free seminars were offered both in person and via livestream thanks to Horse Media Group. Geared towards off-track Thoroughbred owners and enthusiasts as well as any horse person looking to expand their knowledge, subjects included (click each seminar name to watch the recording):