“It was an ‘aha’ moment.”
That’s how Kyle Emmich described the feeling of standing trackside on a sunny summer day at Saratoga and watching the Thoroughbreds perform. The horses in question were not, however, racing full stride toward the finish line, but instead were demonstrating the newfound skills of retired racehorses enjoying second careers at the inaugural New York Thoroughbred Aftercare Day in 2021.
“It was eye-opening,” Emmich said. “I never thought about how comparatively short a horse’s racing career is to its overall lifespan. It was the first time I saw that – the horses going through their paces and going over jumps. It was fun to watch – and the horses seemed to have just as much fun jumping as they do running around the track.”
New York Thoroughbred Aftercare Day was created to put the spotlight on the many resources dedicated by the racing industry to benefit retired racehorses. The event highlighted the success of the TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program, and was the inspiration for Emmich’s generous donation of $15,000 to celebrate TAKE2’s 10th Anniversary.
The contribution was made possible by the eBay Foundation Matching Gifts Program. Emmich, a member of the eBay team for the past nine years, donated $5,000 to TAKE2; because the donation was made during the first quarter of the year, eBay matched it two-for-one.
“I was looking for a new charity to support, and I thought TAKE2’s 10th Anniversary was as good a time as ever to get involved,” he said. “I was familiar with the organization through Saratoga events, and it felt more personal when I saw firsthand the results of their work. I knew the money would be in great hands with TAKE2.”
Emmich, a software administrator originally from Bergen County, New Jersey, was a casual racing fan to start, stopping by the local OTB on big race days to put down a bet and catch the action. That changed when he attended college in Baltimore.
“I went to Pimlico on opening day, and I’d never been so close to a Thoroughbred before,” he recalled. “It was intimidating – they look so much bigger when you can practically feel their breath on you. It opened up a whole new world for me. I went from having a passing interest in the sport, just reading what was in the local papers or watching ESPN in May and June every year, to really paying attention. I was a daily TVG watcher, I read the Daily Racing Form, I kept on top of the news.”
It was while scrolling through the Paulick Report that Emmich first learned of an opportunity to take the next step into horse racing.
“I saw an article about the Empire Racing Club and I thought, ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve seen,’” Emmich said. “I was glad I was reading my news that day.”
Launched in 2019, the Empire Racing Club (ERC) provides members with the experience of racehorse ownership without the expense; the only cost is a one-time membership fee of $475. Members have access to the backstretch and the paddock, meet the trainers and the jockeys and grooms and exercise riders, and participate in Club events and educational seminars to learn more about the business of racing. The managing partner is legendary racecaller Tom Durkin. Emmich was one of the first to sign on, and has been a member every season.
“The Empire Racing Club caused a shift in the way I was viewing the game,” he said. “It wasn’t just about what happened from the starting gate to the winner’s circle photo – there’s so much more that goes into it, there are so many people involved. It was fascinating.
“The experience has been everything I expected and more,” he added. “The first year, we had access like I had never had before, I got to see the racetrack from every angle.”
Unfortunately, the pandemic disrupted Season 2, but ERC switched gears to provide its members with a wealth of information on the sport.
“The second year, it was much more an educational experience,” Emmich confirmed. “We had monthly Zoom calls with owners and trainers and syndicates and veterinarians. Those filled in a lot of blanks, and answered questions I hadn’t even thought to ask. We accidentally went to school the second year.”
More than one seminar centered around aftercare, including a “Lunch and Learn” at Saratoga prior to the pandemic, and Zoom calls with representatives from TAKE2 and other accredited aftercare organizations. ERC members also went through the experience of retiring a horse through TAKE2’s sister program, TAKE THE LEAD.
“We follow our horses closely,” Emmich said. “We have a connection with them when they race under the ERC banner, and we want to know what happens every step of the way after they’ve finished racing. Now and Again was the horse that got us to the winner’s circle for the first time, we wanted to repay that when he retired. We want to make sure our horses are always as happy as they can be.”
ERC colorbearer Now and Again was retired in September of 2020, and went on to his second career as a riding horse with an adopter in South Carolina six months later. His former owners get regular updates on his new life.
Always looking to get more involved, Emmich visited his first horse show this month, but not as a spectator.
“They needed people to help out at the horse show at the Sussex County Fairgrounds, so a friend signed me up,” he explained. “Her horse stepped on her foot, so she wasn’t able to work, but I was happy to volunteer. They needed all hands on deck, and it is always better to learn through hands-on experience.”
Emmich is also ready to take the plunge into racehorse ownership, and he plans to utilize all he has learned to make sure he does it right.
“I’m buying a racehorse this summer,” he said. “I’ll probably partner with people I’ve met through ERC. I’ll be a Real McCoy owner. I’ve seen the model of how to be a responsible horse owner and I’m ready to follow that example. I want to do justice to these equine athletes.”