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Ellis Park Names Friends of Ferdinand Official Aftercare Partner and Sponsors 2024 Virtual Derby

Ellis Park Names Friends of Ferdinand Official Aftercare Partner and Sponsors 2024 Virtual Derby

By Chelsey Burris

Friends of Ferdinand, Inc. (FFI) is thrilled to announce an expanded partnership with Ellis Park Racing and Gaming, which will greatly increase our reach among the horseracing industry.  Among its many important initiatives, Ellis Park has taken a strong stance on promoting Thoroughbred aftercare.  Last summer, FFI was named an official aftercare partner of the historic racetrack.  This year, the partnership has expanded, which will grow FFI’s outreach in the racing world, foster additional education among horsemen about retirement options for their athletes, and create new networks to transition ex-racehorses into second careers beyond the racetrack.

The partnership will include many opportunities for Ellis Park’s horsemen and fans alike to become more familiar with Friends of Ferdinand, what we do, and how they can get involved.  FFI reps will be on-site at important race dates throughout the meet to say hello to fans, answer questions, and build connections with the owners and trainers who race there.  Friends of Ferdinand will have four races named in our honor, with each featuring a beautiful embroidered horse blanket that will be awarded to the winner.  Ellis Park will help promote FFI’s messages through signage located prominently around the racetrack, including in the paddock and on the track apron, as well as through an ad in the race program.  Throughout the racing meet, FFI merchandise will also be available in Ellis Park’s gift shop. 

As part of the partnership, Ellis Park has stepped up with a generous donation to become the title sponsor of the Virtual Derby, which will now be named the FFI Virtual Derby presented by Ellis Park.  This fundraiser, now in its fifth year, benefits Thoroughbreds through an entertaining, interactive, social-media based “race”.  Followers and fans make donations to support a horse in the virtual race, and with each donation, the horse gets closer to the finish line.  It has become FFI’s largest annual fundraiser, helping to support many horses on their journey to find their forever homes.  Most recently, it has funded the expensive voyage home for several Thoroughbreds in an at-risk situation in Puerto Rico at the end of their careers, paid for surgery and rehabilitation time for injured horses, and given our program the available funds to keep horses in our program an extended period of time if needed while finding their dream homes.

FFI's Marketing Director, Chelsey Burris, and President, Erin Smith, at the Friends of Ferdinand booth at Ellis Park last summer.

“We are honored to have joined forces with this great organization to promote our mission of aftercare,” FFI President Erin Smith said. “The Ellis Park team is as passionate about the long-term safety of its equine athletes as we are.  It is crucial for an organization like ours to build these relationships with racetracks, so that we can assist Thoroughbreds across the Midwest as they retire from their racing careers.  Our program focuses on retraining these wonderful and versatile horses, giving them a new skillset so they can be adopted into lasting homes as hunter/jumpers, dressage mounts, eventers, ranch horses, trail partners, and more.”

FFI Marketing Director Chelsey Burris added, “This partnership is a dream come true.  I have been a horseracing fan since I was a kid, and joining the Churchill Downs family is a wonderful opportunity to grow Friends of Ferdinand’s program, helping us to place more ex-racehorses in long-term homes.  Churchill has been a big supporter of Friends of Ferdinand in the past, including their longtime prize donations for our Virtual Derby fundraiser each spring.  Ellis Park stepping up to become the title sponsor of the Virtual Derby will help us make our 5-year edition the best yet.  I’m excited for this partnership to continue to blossom and to benefit even more Thoroughbreds.”

“We are thrilled to once again team with Friends of Ferdinand, whose mission to educate owners and trainers about retirement options for Thoroughbreds is crucial to the horse racing industry,” says Matt Pressley, the Ellis Park General Manager.  “At Ellis Park, the health and welfare of our racehorses, both on and off the track, is paramount. Friends of Ferdinand is a fantastic organization that helps transition retired racehorses into second careers beyond the racetrack.”

Located in Henderson, Kentucky just south of Evansville, Indiana, Ellis Park offers an exciting racing schedule each summer.  The historic racetrack, owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated, celebrated its 100th anniversary two years ago.  We encourage everyone to mark their calendars this summer – the racing meet kicks off on the 4th of July, and runs through the end of August with racing most Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays.

Friends of Ferdinand President Erin Smith (left) and Marketing Director Chelsey Burris, preparing to present a trophy at Ellis Park last summer on Ellis Park Derby day.

We are extremely grateful for Ellis Park’s generous support, creative thinking, and amazing promotion of our program and of Thoroughbred aftercare overall.

Keep an eye on the FFI social media pages for information about the 2024 FFI Virtual Derby presented by Ellis Park, coming this summer!

You can learn more about Ellis Park Racing & Gaming here:

Friends of Ferdinand, Inc. (FFI) is a 501c3 non-profit equine organization that is dedicated to retired racehorses, and the only organization in Indiana that is accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA). Graduates from our program have gone on to have success in hunting/jumping, dressage, calf-roping, western riding, trail riding, and as therapy horses. We are run by a hardworking band of volunteers and assisted by trainers and veterinarians to give retiring racehorses everything they need to have long and happy second careers and lives.  In recent years, the FFI program has expanded through the launch of the Broodmare Bunch which focuses on placing former breeding mares into new careers, and Pasture Pals which works to find secure homes for companion-only horses.  Through our #PoniesOfTheCaribbean Initiative, we also frequently partner with Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare to bring at-risk horses home from Puerto Rico.

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