New law funnels funding toward programs for retired racehorses in Minnesota

A racehorse’s career only lasts about five years, despite many horses living into their 20s.

But a new law in Minnesota is helping pay for programs that give thoroughbred horses a new lease on life after they leave the track.

Since 2016, the state has collected a small percentage of fees from online wagers placed on horse races.

Joe Scurto, president of the Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project, said horse racing and wagering boomed during the pandemic.

“A surplus built up in that account of almost $500,000,” he said.

Scurto said late last year, seeing the money balloon, representatives from the Minnesota Racing Commission and its partners asked lawmakers to give them authority to use those dollars for racehorse rehabilitation and aftercare.

The bill was signed into law and took effect July 1.

The funding will help nonprofits, like Koch Thoroughbred Transformations in Greenfield, expand and serve more horses as they come off the track.

Kristina Walker has been around thoroughbred horses her entire life and started her program earlier this year.

“They’ve given so much to us in the race world, and we owe it back to them to be able to take care of them afterwards,” Walker said in an interview Thursday.

Part of the rehabilitation process for many of these horses is retraining them in a different discipline.

Many of the horses that come to Walker’s program are taught to jump and then adopted out to people who compete in hunter-jumper shows.

“We want to show people how great these horses are, how resilient and how versatile these horses are,” she said.

Take Claire Sailing, a 4-year-old, off-the-track thoroughbred. Just last month, the horse was racing at Canterbury Park. She’s now in training to show at one of the largest retraining competitions in the world, held in Kentucky in October.

The newly available funding will help Koch Thoroughbreds expand in the years to come.

Scurto also said the funding is a reinvestment in these horses that provide a boost to Minnesota agriculture.

“Each horse will generate close to $250,000 in economic impact to the state,” he said. “So when you’re talking about maybe 50-75 thoroughbreds coming off the racetrack each year and the 22,000 thoroughbreds that are already in the state … it’s a large, large number.”