Buy a Hat, Help a Horse: After the Finish Line’s Breeders’ Cup Hat Auction Returns Jan. 8

If you walk around the host venue for any Breeders’ Cup, you will see a collection of purple hats adorning a lucky few. These hats featuring the Breeders’ Cup logo and a horse’s name are distributed to the connections, with everyone from the groom to the owner getting one to commemorate their participation in that year’s event. These are coveted collectibles which also have become a fundraising driver for After the Finish Line.

Since 2016, this California-based aftercare organization has auctioned the hats to support their programs and the 2023 edition proves to be their largest yet, providing fans a chance to support off-track Thoroughbreds while also grabbing a rare collectible to celebrate their favorites.

A Passion to Help

A lifelng horse lover and later owner and breeder, Dawn Mellen started After the Finish Line in 2007, seeking to support those already caring for OTTBs with grants for everything from farrier visits to medical care. The organization hosts several fundraisers a year to support their mission and maintains an eBay store with saddlecloths, horseshoes, and other memorabilia for fans to purchase.

Their support of OTTBs extended to the 2022 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover, where After the Finish Line sponsored the check-in, registration and arrival exams and partnered with the Georgia B. Ridder Foundation to award $2,500 to the top California-bred in the Makeover.  

To start their 2023 fundraising campaign, After the Finish Line will offer their seventh annual Breeders’ Cup hat auction via their eBay store starting Sunday, Jan. 8. They are partnering again with the Georgia B. Ridder Foundation, named for the owner of 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup, who underwrote the cost of purchasing the hats from Breeders’ Cup. The auction offers fans the chance to bid on and win a rare piece of racing memorabilia and help Mellen and her team at After the Finish Line continue supporting OTTBs around the country.

A Unique Opportunity

The idea for this unique campaign came from Mellen’s trip to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park. “I saw the trainers and owners and the grooms, the barn staff wearing these hats,” she remembers. “And I was just learning about how they came to be, what it was all about. I said, why don’t I just ask to see if they would donate a hat to us and we can do a fundraiser with the Breeders’ Cup hat. And that’s really how it started.”

That first year, they auctioned off 46 hats they picked up from the connections of horses like California Chrome and Songbird. Each year since, Breeders’ Cup has given Mellen access to the backside at each venue, where she goes from barn to barn talking to the people behind each horse: “We always have to introduce ourselves, the cause, and the event that we’re hosting.” Word about After the Finish Line’s popular yearly event has gotten around too. For the 2023 edition, 115 horses are represented, with names such as Secret Oath, Goodnight Olive, Hot Rod Charlie, Olympiad, and more on the list.

Once the Breeders’ Cup is over, Mellen and a team of volunteers will prepare the hats for auction. She photographs and then prepares a listing for each hat and shares the event on social media. The excitement surrounding the horses participating is not just limited to the fans either. “Everyone wants their horse to be a part of it. They want to know that people are bidding on their horse’s hat,” Mellen shares. “And they often retweet and share so that their fans who follow them and their horses, be it the connections, the trainer or the owner. They take pride in that.”

Once the auctions are complete and the winners have paid for their coveted collectibles, Mellen is off to the post office to send the goodies to their new owners, the final steps in what proves to be a fun event for everyone involved. “It’s a fan favorite event. You know that these people who win a hat are going to be wearing it the next time they go to the racetrack,” she says. “It’s a conversation piece. Our fans help to spread the news about the fundraiser so that people who didn’t know about it one year know to look for it the following year.”

With a star-studded slate available for fans to bid on, After the Finish Line hopes to raise $10,000 from this year’s auction. Additionally, Mellen is looking forward to fans’ participation in this fundraiser. “We encourage people to put their best foot forward, so to speak, and bid to win, because everybody wants to say they won a hat. Someone may post, ‘Oh, hey, I’m the highest bidder of a particular hat,’ and then come to find out three minutes later somebody outbid them. But they have fun with it. They have fun with it, and that’s the important thing.”

After the Finish Line’s Charity Auction of Breeders’ Cup Hats will begin Sunday, Jan. 8 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. Fans can find these hats at the organization’s eBay store,

Fans can also donate to After the Finish Line on their website,

A Chance to Support

As the new year starts and we count down to the 2023 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park, racing fans can celebrate the stars of the 2022 edition by checking out After the Finish Line’s fundraiser and bidding on their favorite names. This auction is another chance to give back to the horses, another reminder of the mission of this organization and many more like it.

Mellen sees it as “racehorses helping ex-racehorses, horses helping the off-track Thoroughbred, giving back. And that’s what it’s all about.”