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The Second Edition of the Friends of Ferdinand Virtual Derby Breaks Records

The Second Edition of the Friends of Ferdinand Virtual Derby Breaks Records

By Chelsey Burris

Year Two of the Friends of Ferdinand Virtual Derby got off to a hot start and never slowed down, blowing the record of the inaugural edition out of the water! 

Last year, Friends of Ferdinand (FFI) launched a new and exciting fundraiser – the Friends of Ferdinand Virtual Derby.  Using social media, FFI invited followers, friends, and fans to enter a horse to run, virtually, in a race to raise money for Thoroughbred aftercare.  To reach the finish line, each horse needed to fundraise $250.  Not only does the race benefit real life ex-racehorses, but the participants vie for awesome prizes donated by the race’s sponsors.  In an exciting twist for the 2021 edition, an anonymous donor offered to match up to $3,000 raised in the Virtual Derby!

A big field of 13 lined up in the virtual starting gate, and the race began Thursday, April 29.  All breeds are welcome in the Virtual Derby, and this year, the race featured its first ever donkey entrants, a foal, and several runners in memory of a beloved horse.  Out of the gate like a rocket, the plucky donkey Mr. Churchill, entered by Kristyn Ceruti Rubet, crossed the finish line first by raising $250 the most quickly! 

The winner of the 2021 Virtual Derby, Mr. Churchill!

Mr. Churchill was followed by Feema, entered by Ariel Stanley.  Feema was a Virtual Derby veteran, as she was the Grand Champion (awarded to the horse who raises the most money during the course of the fundraiser) in the inaugural edition of the race last year.  The runner in memory of Sir Vicar, entered by Susan Machnik, rounded out the top three, followed by the adorable donkey and Samoyed pair Finn and Dublin (entered by Heather Hoffmann) in fourth.   In fifth place was the runner in memory of Mad Ant, entered by Moran Buckingham, while Amanda K. Pope’s entrant, Mitos Y Leyendas, nabbed sixth place.  By this point in the race, May 2, the race had broken the $5,000 mark in donations, a major milestone for the Virtual Derby!

Onward the runners continued, with Melissa Vettleson’s entrant, Pioneer Justice, bringing home 7th place honors, followed by Bonnie Blue (entered by Sara Busbice) in 8th.  By the end of the day on May 3, the race had raised almost enough money to bring and fully fund two new ex-racehorses through the FFI retraining program!

Everyone’s favorite foal, Rugby, who was born prematurely and showed a tenacious spirit to survive, finished in 9th place.  She had been entered by Lori Miller, who is FFI’s head English trainer.  Close behind her, Teak, entered by Laurie Powers, crossed the wire in 10th place.  The runner in memory of Ferdinand, the horse who helped to originally found the Friends of Ferdinand organization, finished 11th, with Lady Dyanaformer, entered by Kyle Rothfus, following in 12th place.  Ella Acapella, entered by Maria Sikic, rounded out the field!

The results of the race were astounding!  In just its second year, the FFI Virtual Derby raised $10,296 - much more than the original goal, and enough to bring several new horses into the FFI barn!  By raising $2,265, Feema and her owner Ariel Stanley were awarded the Grand Champion prize as the horse who raised the most money during the race – marking her second year in a row to take home this honor!

Two of the real-life ex-racehorses directly impacted by the 2021 FFI Virtual Derby.

The FFI Virtual Derby is a lot of fun, with folks sharing posts on social media to rally for their entrants, and followers choosing their favorites to root on during the race.  And although the race itself might be virtual, the direct impact is real!  Funds raised from the 2021 FFI Virtual Derby helped to benefit many of the horses in the Friends of Ferdinand retraining program. Horses directed impacted included the gorgeous mare Hawaiian Memories, where the funds helped with her rehabilitation to heal from her broken pelvis, and the sweet gelding Haynesfield Best, where the funds raised helped bring him home from an at-risk situation in Puerto Rico and covered the cost of his much-needed knee surgery.  

A huge thank you to our 2021 sponsors: Alcatraz Equine Bodyworks, AZR Designs Indiana, Breeders’ Cup, Chick’s Discount Saddlery, Churchill Downs, Coolmore America, Horse Country, Rugged Rider Tack & Blanket Service, SmartPak, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, United States Dressage Federation, United States Eventing Association, and United States Hunter Jumper Association for providing wonderful prizes, and for their support of Thoroughbred aftercare!


Interested in being involved in the 2022 edition, as a sponsor, participant, or donor?  Contact to get involved!  

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