By Jeanne Schnell
Thoroughbred Aftercare Liason & Events Manager
An equine veterinarian a former jockey and an innovation officer enter a horse show competition. While this may sound like the start of a horse joke, it is a real-life story. What started as a “hey, why don’t we…” has blossomed into Team 1/ST Racing’s foray into the Real Rider Cup, a charity horseshow where racing industry individuals team up with Off-the-Track Thoroughbreds to compete over jumps while raising money and awareness for Thoroughbred Aftercare.
Dr. Dionne Benson is the Chief Veterinary Officer for 1/ST Racing and oversees all veterinary protocols and staff at each one of 1/ST Racing’s tracks. An avid proponent of aftercare and the thoroughbred horse, she owns four OTTBs. “These horses are brave and honest partners who want to please and have always made sure I am taken care of” remarked Benson.
When 1/ST Racing Manager of Innovation Jodie Vella-Gregory asked Dr. Benson to take part in the Real Rider Cup on Team 1/ST, Benson jumped on board. “I believe that aftercare is incredibly important. These horses give their all during their racing career. We have a duty to make sure we give back to them,” Benson said. The Real Rider Cup showcases their talent.” For Benson who oversees the racehorse population at all 1/ST properties, having a second career is important to the racehorse transitioning to aftercare. “Being able to give them time to find the new career that is best suited to them can make all the difference in the world,” she emphasized.
Dr. Benson will be pairing up with a relatively new mount in her barn in Stand Up, Stand Out. Of her partner, Benson says that he is a kind horse who always tries his best. An 8-year-old gelding, Stand Up Stand Out had run primarily in New Mexico but made starts in Del Mar as well as a few starts in Louisiana. Since retiring in 2019, Stand Up Stand Out has been Eventing through novice level. The pair have done 3 competitions at Start level earning 5th place each time. Most recently, Dr. Benson and Stand Up Stand Out were the Reserve T.I.P. Champion at their last show.
Aaron Gryder is no stranger to horses or the Real Rider Cup. A former jockey who has won 3,905 races, with over $120 million in earnings, Aaron also competed in the Real Rider Cup for the first time last year. Now the Vice President of Industry Relations at 1/ST Racing, Gryder serves as a liaison between industry stakeholders with an eye on advancing jockey outreach, health and safety initiatives.
“I am proud to be riding in the Real Rider Cup again this year. It is a great event where horse lovers come together to celebrate retired racehorses and their new lifestyles. I enjoyed a long career as a jockey, but I will love being around horses for a lifetime,” said Gryder.
“Being on a team [representing 1/ST Racing] with Dr. Dionne Benson and Jodie Vella-Gregory is exciting,” he stated. Remarking on 1/ST commitment to equine safety and welfare, Gryder expounded upon the initiatives 1/ST has instituted. 1/ST Racing has created several new protocols over the last few years focused on continued health and safety for our equine athletes (they can be viewed here). “Our team is dedicated to finding happy homes for our retired racehorses once their racing career is over. The Real Rider Cup displays these beautiful thoroughbreds continuing to enjoy a nice life,” said Gryder.
Gryder is again pairing with his mount from last year’s Real Rider Cup in 17-year-old Stronach homebred and multiple-stakes-placed runner, Sligovitz. “I am excited to see him again. He is a kind and happy horse. Sligovitz is small in stature, but big at heart. He is currently competing at the novice level in Eventing. I am honored to partner with him again for the Real Rider Cup 2022,” Gryder exclaimed.
Jodie Vella-Gregory grew up riding and competing in her Native Canada. As Manager of Innovation for 1/ST Racing, Jodie is on the Board of Directors of the Retired Racehorse Project and serves on the advisory board for The Jockey Club’s Safety Net Foundation, raising funds for the backstretch community needs.
“I decided to dust off my boots from a long layoff and ride in the Real Rider Cup because I want to do my part in raising money and awareness to the importance of thoroughbred aftercare and the Retired Racehorse Project, said Vella-Gregory. It means a lot to me that 1/ST Racing is supporting and sending a team to do the same!”
Jodie has partnered with Dr. Hal (barn name Chili), a 12-year-old Kentucky bred who earned more than $100,000 on the track. “I have not met my equine partner yet, but I am excited to ride Dr. Hal (aka Chili) as he raced for 5 years including at 1/ST tracks, Laurel Park and Pimlico. I have always had a soft spot for a feisty little chestnut!” beamed Vella-Gregory.
A leader in racing and fan engagement, 1/ST Racing is dedicated to advancing the mission of thoroughbred aftercare through fundraising and awareness. The Real Rider Cup fits well with these goals and provides a fun and enjoyable way for industry participants and fans to watch racing personalities and their OTTB counterparts raise money for Thoroughbred Aftercare. If you are interested in donating towards thoroughbred aftercare through the Real Rider Cup you can do so here: https://therealridercup.com/make-a-donation.