Hernandez carrying banner for Second Stride in Ellis Park Derby

| 2-year-old racing, Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, horse racing, horse trainers, jockeys, Kentucky Derby

Second Stride founder Kim Smith and trainer Tommy Drury in Drury's barn office at the Skylight training center in Oldham County. Jennie Rees photo

HENDERSON, Ky. (Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020) — 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.”

The riding pants Hernandez wears in the Ellis Park Derby will be part of Second Stride's online fundraising auction that is part of the organization's virtual fundraiser on Aug. 31.

What assuredly will be the largest contingent of media in track history will converge on Ellis Park, located on a strip of land north of the Ohio River, thanks to the New Madrid earthquake of 1812 changing the river’s course. Media members at the facility for the first time also will find that Ellis Park might be the only track with a cash crop in its infield: soybeans, hence the nickname the Pea Patch. Ellis’ 1 1/8-mile dirt track also is the largest outside the East Coast that isn’t synthetic. Into its 98th season, Ellis Park — whose first races back in 1922 were for standardbreds — also is the second-oldest track in Kentucky, trailing only Churchill Downs. 

The Ellis Park Derby (approximate post time 5:10 p.m. CT), with its winner collecting 50 points toward Kentucky Derby qualifying, is the last of a stakes quintet on packed card that attracted 118 horses for 10 races. Also featured:

The $100,000 Groupie Doll (4:40 p.m. CT) for fillies and mares at a mile, with Grade 1 winner Street Band taking on fellow millionaire Lady Apple in a field of 12, with three other horses awaiting defections to make the capacity field.

$100,000 RUNHAPPY Audubon Oaks (post 4:10 p.m. CT) for 3-year-old fillies at seven-eighths of a mile, a field of 11 that includes Keeneland’s Grade 3 Beaumont runner-up Sconsin, the 7-2 favorite, and Maryland shipper Hello Beautiful. The Audubon Oaks offers 17 points toward qualifying for the Sept. 4 Kentucky Oaks, including 10 to its winner. With its seven-furlong distance, the race also is a logical steppingstone to Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Eight Belles Stakes at the same distance on Sept. 4.

$100,000 RUNHAPPY Juvenile (2:14 p.m. CT) for 2-year-olds at seven-eighths of a mile, with Libertyrun garnering attention in the field of seven as the first winner sired by Claiborne stallion Runhappy, the champion sprinter who is American horse racing’s biggest sponsor, including of the RUNHAPPY Summer Meet at Ellis Park, all of the meet’s 2-year-old open maiden races and Saturday’s RUNHAPPY Travers at Saratoga.

The $100,000 RUNHAPPY Debutante (3:10 p.m. CT) for 2-year-old fillies drew a full field of 12, headed by 3-1 favorite Crazy Beautiful, an impressive maiden winner on turf at Ellis Park; Delaware invader Hipnotizada and big Lone Star Park debut winner Lacey Boss.