Inside Track: Turning Things Around
By Esther Marr, The Blood-Horse |
Barbara Luna has spent most of her life working in various aspects of the Thoroughbred industry, from hot walking horses as a college student, to becoming a licensed owner and trainer later on down the road. Throughout her endeavors she discovered that even greater than her love of campaigning runners was the passion that came from helping retired racehorses have a second chance.
As the administrator of the newly established Turning for Home, a Thoroughbred retirement program for Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack-based horsemen, Luna is now able to put that passion to work on a daily basis.
“Because I’m so involved in racing and was a trainer myself, I understand the pressure that a trainer has when his horse is no longer competitive,” said Luna. “You can’t really afford to put them on long waiting lists (to be accepted into adoption programs).”
Turning for Home, which last year placed more than 190 retired racehorses with local non-profit adoption organizations, was unanimously approved by the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association in May.
The program is sponsored and managed by the PTHA with support from Philadelphia Park, which is the first year-round racetrack to offer on-track options for adoption placement.
“We just formally got our non-profit status, and the Pennsylvania Senate approved a resolution commending the PTHA for starting up this program,” said Luna, who formerly worked as the executive director of ReRun, a New Jersey-based racehorse retirement organization.
Luna’s love of Thoroughbreds stems from riding retired racehorses as a child in New Jersey and attending races at Monmouth Park as a teenager. She later went to graduate school at the University of Kentucky and wound up breaking yearlings for trainer John Ward Jr. at Xalapa Farm, working in The Blood-Horse research department, and galloping horses at Keeneland.
She eventually moved back to New Jersey, hosting the on-track handicapping television show at Monmouth Park in addition to training a small stable of horses.
“I don’t think I would exist if I didn’t have my hand in racing some way,” said Luna, who met Michael Ballezzi, executive director of the PTHA, while she was shipping horses as a side job. “He was really the force behind getting this program going. He was interested in my ideas of how to run the organization and was happy that I had so many contacts in the industry.”
Luna said the fact Turning for Home is based at the racetrack is one of the major aspects that sets it apart from other retirement programs, and the amount of support the organization has received from the racetrack and the PTHA has aided its success. Philadelphia Park horsemen have also agreed to donate $10 per start to Turning for Home, with jockeys contributing $10 per win and $5 per second-place finish toward the cause.
Instead of housing the Turning for Home horses in a barn at the track, Luna works to place them with other non-profit organizations in the area, such as South Jersey Thoroughbred Rescue and Adoption, which cares for the animals until they are ready to be adopted. Directed by Erin Hurley, the Medford, NJ-based organization receives a donation from Turning for Home for each horse sent from the racetrack.
One of Luna’s favorite stories while serving in her role with Turning for Home involved a chestnut gelding named Five Card Poker, who was adopted by a ranch owner in Tennessee last year.
“He sent us a picture of his 11-year-old daughter riding Five Card Poker two months after he got down there,” said Luna. “She’s this little girl…her feet don’t even fit in the stirrups. She’s riding (Five Card Poker) in a Western saddle. The owner’s wife also got on him and started teaching him how to herd cattle, and they just love him. He was a nice racehorse, but he just likes his new job. I brought the picture into the office, and also everyone had a little tear in their eye, because we’re all so close to these horses.”