In 2018, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association underscored its commitment to the backstretch workers and their families, and to the horses, with $1,794,147 in NYTHA Benevolence Program contributions to the initiatives and organizations that are vital to their health, well-being and quality of life.
“We all know we would not have a racing industry without the incredible men and women who dedicate their lives to the horses,” said NYTHA President Joe Appelbaum. “That is why we direct so much of NYTHA’s focus and funding to the services that provide everything from healthcare, dental and eye care, and substance abuse counselling to childcare, education and college scholarships. These people ask so little. It is up to us to offer all the help and appreciation we can.”
The Backstretch Employee Service Team (BEST) is the primary beneficiary of the NYTHA Benevolence Program. NYTHA’s total donations to the BEST Program in 2018 totaled $722,556. BEST oversees the healthcare clinics, which provide free medical care to backstretch workers at Belmont year-round and at Saratoga from April through November. The BEST team of state-licensed substance abuse counsellors have a stellar success record, far above the average for the 40 other similar statewide programs tracked by the NYS Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. For instance, in 2017:
- 52% of BEST`s patients completed the BEST outpatient program as compared to the State norm of 35%
- 68% of BEST`s patients abstained from drugs and alcohol while in the program as compared to the state norm of 25%
- 81% of BEST`s patients “maintained employment status” as compared to the state norm of 35%
Workers have access to free dental and eye care, and BEST offers tax preparation and translation services. They will add a free legal clinic in 2019.
“NYTHA is a model for how an industry should care for its workers,” said BEST Executive Director Paul Ruchames. “Every backstretch worker at Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga has been touched in a significant way by NYTHA’s benevolence, and BEST is perhaps the greatest witness to this. Every time a patient gets critical care in one of our primary health care centers, begins on the path of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, gets the gift of improved vision through NYTHA-funded eyeglasses or benefits from BEST subsidized health insurance, NYTHA is always in the background offering steadfast and thoughtful support. BEST could not be the safety net for the backstretch workers without the support of NYTHA, and for that we and those who are the foundation of the racing industry, the backstretch workers, will always be grateful.”
NYTHA is focused on helping the backstretch community to fulfill their dreams through higher education. Last year, NYTHA distributed $259,067 in scholarship grants to more than 50 backstretch workers and their immediate dependents. Those students attended colleges all over the state, from Adelphi University to Cornell to St. John’s to the University of Buffalo.
Mercedes Hernandez Parreno, whose dad, Alfredo Hernandez, is a groom for trainer John Terranova, will graduate from SUNY Cobleskill in May, and plans to go on to veterinary school.
“I always knew that I wanted to work in the science field,” Mercedes said. “It was my favorite subject since elementary school. As I got older, my father started taking me to the races where I had my first interactions with the horses. That’s when it clicked that working as a veterinarian would combine my love for science and animals. I started volunteering with Dr. Hunt at the backstretch where I knew that this was the right field for me.”
She added, “I really have the NYTHA Scholarship to thank for this opportunity. My parents have always emphasized education. They came to this country to give me the opportunities they never had and they knew that started with education. This upcoming May I will be the first person in my family to graduate from university. My whole family is incredibly proud. It means the world to me and my family to have the support of NYTHA.”
The Backstretch Education Fund received $70,046 to fund English as a Second Language courses, the Language Lab and Community Center, and the Backstretch Bistro, which provides an alcohol-free environment where workers can get together for a movie, music or just quiet conversation.
The New York division of the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America partners with NYTHA on a robust recreation program for the workers and their families. RTCA-NY puts together trips to sporting events, amusement parks, museums and concerts, and has created a Summer Enrichment Program for the children of the workers who travel to Saratoga each summer. NYTHA’s contributions to RTCA-NY last year came to $173,305.
NYTHA is also committed to ensuring that the horses are cared for at the track, and when they retire. Each year, NYTHA donates $150,000 each to the TAKE THE LEAD Thoroughbred Retirement Program, which finds homes for the horses retiring from the NYRA tracks; and the TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program, which promotes second careers for retired racehorses in the show ring. More than 450 horses have been retired through TAKE THE LEAD since it was established in 2013.
“NYTHA provides six-figure grants to our incredible not-for-profit partners one day and buys a hot meal for a worker who is down on his luck the next,” said trainer Rick Schosberg, chair of NYTHA’s Aftercare and Backstretch Committees. “Thanks to the strong support of New York’s horsemen, we can make a difference.”