The Lifesaving Work of the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation


It is an unfortunate truth that when it comes to finding trouble, horses excel at it. Luckily for horse owners, the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation has dedicated itself to equine research for more than 80 years and disperses nearly $1 million annually in grants.

Understanding its history—do you know who Grayson was?—and its mission of helping all breeds of horses is important for the future wellbeing of equines everywhere.

“Equine disease and injuries extend to all types of horses,” said Jamie Haydon, the president of the organization. “These ailments do not single out one particular horse, breed, or discipline. All horse owners may deal with laminitis, colic, musculoskeletal injures, sick foals, respiratory issues and many others. Grayson has no alliance with any one university, so the foundation is able to fund the best research regardless of where it takes place.

“Grayson has achieved many levels of success in the equine research field over the past 80 years and is traditionally the leading source of private funding for scientific projects focused on ensuring the future of equine research and the health and safety of horses.”

The original Grayson Foundation was formed in 1940. It was named in honor of Admiral Cary Grayson, who had served as the personal physician to President Woodrow Wilson and was chairman of the American Red Cross at the time of his death in 1938.

In addition to science, Grayson also loved Thoroughbreds and owned Blue Ridge Farm. One of his top runners was My Own, winner of the Saratoga Cup, Saratoga Handicap, and Maryland Handicap.

Grayson also liked to combine business with pleasure when he could. This included in 1919 when he suggested President and Mrs. Wilson take a break from the Versailles Treaty negotiations to join Lord Derby for a day at the races at Longchamp.

In his final years, Grayson was connected to the formulative stages that led to the establishment of the foundation named in his honor. The Jockey Club was among the initial respondents, pledging 20 percent of the total capital needed.

The goal for many years was to disperse $100,000 annually in grants to specific equine research projects. The Jockey Club created its own research foundation in 1984, and five years later, it merged with Grayson to be the entity it is known as today.

This merge led to a boost in the amount of funding available, and how that funding gets distributed got a major overhaul at the turn of the century, which in turn led to an even bigger impact.

“In 1999, Dr. Gary Lavin and Dr. Larry Bramlage recognized the need to reorganize the process by which Grayson approved projects to be funded,” said Haydon. “They merged the two existing committees of academics and practicing vets into one new committee to include 32 individuals representing various research specialties and veterinary practices from across America to recommend approved projects to the board.

“Currently using this process, Grayson is funding 50 active projects at 23 different institutions on three continents. Since the committee reorganization, the project publication rate has been exceptional, with 230 projects eligible for publication, resulting in 329 papers produced in peer-reviewed journals. Grayson is indebted to Dr. Lavin for all his hard work.”

For more than eight decades, Grayson’s research funding has advanced the wellbeing of equines in numerous ways, ranging from the first equine influenza vaccine to gene therapy for equine arthritis to cryotherapy treatment protocols for laminitis.

Recent research includes the funding of multiple studies that led to effective treatments to combat equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1), which is has become exceptionally timely once more with several outbreaks this year.

Horse with leg in bandages
Courtesy of Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation

Furthermore, as safety and welfare continue to take center stage with racehorses, it is important to note that in 2015, it was Grayson which funded the first equine positron emission tomography (PET) scan. In 2019, the same research team developed a new machine that makes it possible to image the limbs of standing horses using light sedation, eliminating the need for anesthesia. That machine is now in use at Santa Anita as well as at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center.

A current project being conducted by the Baylor College of Medicine with co-investigator Texas A&M University is using inhalation therapy to instantly protect newborn foals against infection caused by Rhodococcus equi. The technology to do so has become very familiar even to those outside the equine industry.

“This vaccine is composed of a lab-made messenger RNA molecule (mRNA), which is a blueprint that can be used to instruct cells to produce a specific protein,” said Haydon. “Yes, just like a few of our COVID-19 vaccines. Our equine researchers are also using the mRNA technology to help us protect some of our most vulnerable foals. This is the first time that mRNA therapy has been used for horses.”

Since 1983, Grayson has individually provided more than $30.6 million to fund 397 projects at 45 universities in North America and overseas. Some well-known funding has come through generous donations from major players in horse racing like Robert and Helen Kleberg, Paul Mellon, and John Oxley, but any horse lover can contribute to the non-profit.

“In addition to the regular donations, you also have the opportunity to donate in honor or memory of individuals,” said Haydon. “Our Tribute Program enables you to pay tribute to your favorite horse and tell your horse’s story. A dedicated tribute wall on our website enables you to share a photo and comments about your horse in memory or honor of them.”

The reality is that without these donations, Grayson would not be able to fund the incredible work it seeks to support, and the horses are the ones who would suffer for it.

“If those of us who reap the benefits of healthy, sound horses don’t support Grayson, the research simply will not get done,” said Haydon. “With universities strapping their expenditures and the federal government not funding equine research, investigators rely more heavily than ever on our foundation.

“While many efforts focus on helping a specific situation or a certain number of horses, scientific research has the potential to protect the largest numbers of horses today, tomorrow, and in the future. Ultimately, the greatest gratitude is reserved for our donors, without whose generosity and understanding of the importance of research, any of our accomplishments would not have been possible. There is plenty of gratitude, too, for the brilliant and dedicated individuals who conceive of, design, and accomplish the research. The horses benefit over and over.”