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.

369 horses nominated to compete in Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A total of 369 3-year-olds were made eligible to compete in this year’s Triple Crown series during the early nomination period.

Each of the horses was nominated through a $600 payment to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes. The Triple Crown opens May 6 with the Derby.

The number of nominated horses increased by 57 from last year’s total of 312. They include a record 37 horses based in Japan.

Among the notable horses is Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion trained by Todd Pletcher.

Also among the predominantly male horses nominated was a filly named Hoosier Philly.

Brad Cox led all trainers with 38 horses nominated to the series. Pletcher was second with 36 horses, followed by Steve Asmussen and Ken McPeek with 13 each. Chad Brown and Hideyuki Mori had 12 each.

Others nominated include Arabian Knight, Cave Rock and Newgate, all trained by Bob Baffert. He is currently banned by Churchill Downs Inc. through this year’s Derby, although Baffert is challenging his two-year punishment in federal court.

For the Derby, horses under the care of any suspended trainer may be transferred to another trainer and become eligible to earn Derby qualifying points as long as the transfer is done by Feb. 28.

Last year, Baffert transferred two horses to another trainer and both ran in the Derby, although neither was highly placed.

Horses that were not nominated to the Triple Crown series by the early deadline of Jan. 28 can make a late payment of $6,000 through March 27 to become eligible.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4


ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.