Kentucky Derby 2021: What happens to racehorses after they retire from the track?

Pat McDonogh / Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Horses are unique athletes for the pretty obvious reason that they are not humans. Their careers will end just like any other athlete’s, but racehorses can’t exactly become analysts or businessmen when they retire.

Horses also retire much earlier in life than human athletes; the average Thoroughbred lives between 25-28 years, but most racehorses retire when they are much younger.

So, what happens to horses when their racing days are over? It depends on their competitive success and who is looking after them, but here are some of the options:


Most successful retired racehorses live out their second chapter on breeding farms. The goal is to breed the next big winner, so a horse’s lineage, speed and track record are closely considered.

Some notable horses like the legendary Seabiscuit don’t find success as breeding stallions, but 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah has already sired several proven winners.

Only horses registered in the Jockey Club can race, and one of the club’s rules bans horses born via artificial insemination or embryo transfer from competing. Because of this, stallion farms play a crucial role in maintaining the sport of horse racing.

New activities

Some horses stay active and in work after their racing careers. According to the Retired Racehorse Project, most horses sold to new owners are used as riding horses.

Those who are still spry and have some agility can even stay in timed competitions like show jumping, the combined sport of eventing and barrel racing. Some will head into the dressage ring or take to the trails as trail riding horses.

Still, other horses (like 2009 upset winner Mine That Bird) will live out their days on ranches, guiding and controlling livestock.


There are several programs that help find new homes for retired Thoroughbreds. The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance evaluates organizations looking to take in transitioning racehorses and provides grants to those it approves.

Another placement facilitation resource is the Retired Racehorse Project. Its goal is to increase “demand for them in equestrian sports and serving the farms, trainers, and organizations that transition them.” One of their most well-known initiatives is the Thoroughbred Makeover, a competition that encourages equestrians to retrain retired racehorses and prepare them for new careers.

There are also organizations that take in former racehorses with the goal of preparing them for second careers. The Secretariat Center in Lexington, Ky., is a prime example of a reschooling organization. The center houses 10-20 Thoroughbreds at a time and “provides education for former racehorses to move on to new careers.” The center prioritizes teaching many skills so that horses can match with many potential adopters.

Watch the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 1 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Full coverage is also available on and the NBC Sports app.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.

Judge grants Churchill Downs’ request for summary judgment to dismiss Bob Baffert’s lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has granted Churchill Downs’ motion for summary judgment that dismisses Bob Baffert’s claim the track breached due process by suspending the Hall of Fame trainer for two years.

Churchill Downs Inc. suspended Baffert in June 2021 after his now-deceased colt, Medina Spirit, failed a postrace drug test after crossing the finish line first in the 147th Kentucky Derby. The trainer’s request to lift the discipline was denied in February, keeping him out of the Derby for a second consecutive May.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings ruled in a 12-page opinion issued Wednesday that Churchill Downs’ suspension of Baffert did not devalue his Kentucky trainer’s license. It cited his purse winnings exceeding $1 million at Keeneland in Lexington and stated that his argument “amounts to a false analogy that distorts caselaw.”

Jennings denied CDI’s motion to stay discovery as moot.

The decision comes less than a week after Baffert-trained colt National Treasure won the Preakness in his first Triple Crown race in two years. His record eighth win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown came hours after another of his horses, Havnameltdown, was euthanized following an injury at Pimlico.

Churchill Downs said in a statement that it was pleased with the court’s favorable ruling as in Baffert’s other cases.

It added, “While he may choose to file baseless appeals, this completes the seemingly endless, arduous and unnecessary litigation proceedings instigated by Mr. Baffert.”

Baffert’s suspension is scheduled to end on June 2, but the track’s release noted its right to extend it “and will communicate our decision” at its conclusion.