NYRA on-air host Acacia Clement a champion for aftercare

June 3, 2022

ELMONT, N.Y. – Acacia Clement has loved horses for as long as she can remember. She fondly recalls her mother, Sherrie, passing on her own love of horses to her as she encouraged her through riding lessons as a child.

Clement gained a particular admiration for thoroughbreds at 8-years-old when she was placed atop a retired racehorse named Siren. That admiration would later lead her to establish Racing for Home, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the retirement and rehoming of racehorses.

“We had always loved thoroughbreds as far as a breed,” Clement said of her family’s equine background. “No one wanted to ride Siren because she went so fast, but I loved it. She was my favorite of all the horses in the program and it felt like we were a team. And so, I always loved thoroughbreds.”

As Clement entered her teenage years and began to explore other interests in pageantry and dancing, her affinity for horses never wavered. Thinking back to Siren and the camaraderie she felt working in tandem with the spirited mare, Clement decided to explore the possibility of adopting a thoroughbred of her own.

Clement was drawn to visit the now defunct Suffolk Downs when she was 17 on the recommendation of the racehorse retirement organization CANTER, who informed her of the needs on the track’s backstretch. It was there that she found Palace Diva, a Lido Palace mare who raced five times in 2009. The bay mare’s best finish was a fifth-place effort on debut at Tampa Bay Downs. Her last race was in a maiden claimer on July 20, 2009 at Suffolk Downs where she finished sixth-of-8.

“We went to Suffolk Downs and picked out Palace Diva, who is still with our family,” said Clement.

When Clement returned from Suffolk Downs two months later with two more retirees, the family made a decision to launch Racing for Home, Inc., which was officially established in 2011 and operates out of DeCarli Equestrian Center in Ellington, Connecticut.

“We came back with two more horses and my family said, ‘If you’re going to do this, do it right,’” Clement said. “I went and did all the paperwork, which was a huge undertaking for someone right out of high school. We got 501(c)(3) and we’ve grown since then.”

The organization carefully evaluates each retiree it welcomes, giving them time to unwind from their racing schedules and to figure out what new career will work best for them.

“We do sanctuary, rehab and retraining,” Clement said. “It’s very individualized and they usually need about six months of let-down time. It’s very expensive to operate that way, but that’s why we have a limited number. You want to give them some time to adapt and then see where their talents are. You start slow with some groundwork and eventually, you can start them under saddle and see if they’re a candidate to adopt out. Obviously, they are individuals and some relax a little sooner than others or take to different types of training.”

Racing for Home, Inc. currently cares for 13 horses and has provided aftercare to 40 horses since 2011. The retirees’ goals vary from being turned out as a pasture pet to being retrained for other disciplines of riding such as jumping and dressage. One of the farm’s most famous alumni is permanent resident Celtic Chaos, a multiple stakes winner on the NYRA circuit who retired to the farm in 2021 after 47 lifetime starts.

“Celtic was known for having an attitude on the racetrack,” Clement said. “He was a tricky horse and he has really settled into his life as an OTTB. Celtic and my dad have an amazing bond, which is great to see.”

One of the newest retirees is Fish Trappe Road, who won the Grade 3 Dwyer over Big Sandy in 2017. He recently returned to the mainland after racing for the past two years in Puerto Rico. The grey gelding found himself in the organization’s care after he finished ninth in his last race at Camarero and had his retirement secured by Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare.

Clement said she is hopeful that Fish Trappe Road will settle in as nicely as his former foe Celtic Chaos. The retirees met on three occasions on the racetrack, including the 2015 Sleepy Hollow at Belmont where Fish Trappe Road finished a close second 10 lengths the better of Celtic Chaos in fifth. The two would meet again two years later at Saratoga Race Course in the John Morrissey, which was won by Celtic Chaos with Fish Trappe Road in eighth, and in an allowance one start later.  

“Fish Trappe Road has only been with us a little over a month, but he’s put on a lot of weight and has settled in really well,” Clement said of the popular gelding. “We’re really excited about him and he’s going to do well. He’s very relaxed since he got to the farm.

“The two actually raced against each other, and now they’re in paddocks right next to each other,” Clement added, with a laugh.

Racing for Home, Inc.’s successes are thanks in great part to the dedication of Clement’s mother, Sherrie Courtney, who Clement said spends countless hours overseeing the care and development of each retiree.

“My mom is amazing. I give so much credit to her; she is on the farm every day,” said Clement. “She gets on these ex-racehorses and she just has so much love, patience and empathy and really cares so deeply. I admire her so much in what she’s been able to do and the success she’s had with the horses she’s worked with. Her kind heart comes through in their attitude and how they progress. She’s been the biggest cheerleader of the program right from the start and now she’s the heart and soul behind it.”

Clement reflected on the way aftercare cultivated a passion for horse racing that steered her down the path that led to a full-time position with NYRA this year as a television host and reporter on America’s Day at the Races.

“Aftercare got me into the game in the first place. I always grew up watching the Kentucky Derby, the Breeders’ Cup and big races like that and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t really know anything about it,” said Clement. “So when I ended up getting our first horse, the Suffolk track kitchen was the first place I ever read a racing form.”

Clement also expressed her gratitude for the ways her position at NYRA provide a platform for the discussion of aftercare.

“It’s been awesome to see on America’s Day at the Races that we put an emphasis on aftercare and promoting events and the work aftercare groups are doing right here in New York,” Clement said. “I’m really proud to work for a company that puts aftercare at the forefront. NYRA realizes we need to focus on aftercare and they continue to ensure that that’s at the forefront of the conversation.”

NYRA’s commitments to aftercare include a $10 per start pledge to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), an accrediting body that inspects and awards grants to aftercare facilities. NYRA also supports the New York Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association’s (NYTHA) retirement program Take The Lead, which provides veterinary exams, treatments and other costs associated with retraining racehorses. These efforts are supported by an aftercare assessment fee of 1.5 percent of the claiming price of horses haltered on the NYRA circuit.

The lasting impression thoroughbreds have had on Clement is that they are a breed as versatile and willing as they are athletic and competitive.

“Thoroughbreds can adapt to anything. They can be eventers, they can do dressage, be jumpers or ponies on the racetrack,” said Clement. “We had one horse who turned out to be a riding horse in a therapeutic program and was teaching children with autism. They’re athletes, but they’re also intelligent and sensitive. I think that willingness to please shows how well they can adapt.”

Clement said she is grateful not just for the way horses have shaped the trajectory of her life, but for the opportunity to give back as well.

“The most rewarding part of it is that we are fulfilling a need in the industry,” said Clement. “They are incredible animals and are so much more adaptable than people give them credit for. I’m really proud of how far we’ve come with aftercare and I’m proud my mom and our family can be a part of that.”

Racing for Home, Inc. is a Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) accredited organization and accepts donations via PayPal. For more information or to make a donation, visit https://racingforhomeinc.com/

Belmont Park Press Release

Photo: Sherrie Courtney [aboard Firestar] and Acacia Clement [aboard Palace Diva] courtesy of Acacia Clement.

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