Posted: Oct. 12, 2019
Bessie Gruwell, Executive Director of the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, on Oct. 11 was named the winner of the Godolphin Thoroughbred Employee Administration Award, presented for the first time this year.
Gruwell and Bobby Lillis, Benevolence Administrator for the Maryland THA, were on hand at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., for the Goldolphin Thoroughbred Employee Industry Awards luncheon. Lillis earlier was named the recipient of the Community Award.
Gruwell, whose horses won almost 400 races and earned $4.97 million in a 20-year training career that ended 2004, has been Executive Director of the DTHA since 2005, just before Delaware racetracks began operating casino-style gambling. She previously served as President of the Delaware THA, which represents horsemen at Delaware Park.
“It really is incredible for me,” Gruwell said. “I think (these awards) have been a long time coming—we have grooms, hot walkers, exercise riders, foremen and assistant trainers in barns day after day taking care of our horses and doing all the hard work behind the scenes. Everybody who works in the industry are very dedicated, loyal and compassionate people. It means so much for them to be recognized.
“It has been a very humble experience for me. Last year I nominated Lisa See, a groom at Delaware Park, and she won the Dedication to Racing Award. It’s so exciting to share with her in getting one of these awards. I wish more people would pay attention to these awards and nominate people. Just to be recognized as a finalist was great.”
As a trainer, Gruwell was instrumental in the careers of jockey Juan Umana, who began working for her stable at Delaware Park as a groom and exercise rider and not long after won the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice rider in 1993; and future Hall of Fame jockey Ramon Dominguez, who she brought to Laurel Park in the winter of 1999 along with his eventual wife, Sharon, who was Gruwell’s exercise rider.
While operating her stable, Gruwell was also employed full-time at DuPont in its aerospace division. She would go to the barn early and leave during the renovation break. She continued to maintain that schedule when her job was transferred to Maryland.
For more than 20 years, Gruwell has been a positive force as part of the overall THA, for which she serves as secretary. In Delaware she has been heavily involved in many initiatives, including its creation of the annual Owners’ Day celebration at Delaware Park and the launch of the Delaware Certified Thoroughbred Program, which provides roughly $1 million a year in bonuses and stakes purses in a state with a very limited Thoroughbred breeding program.
She has assisted backstretch workers with a retirement program and regularly addresses immigration and visa issues. Gruwell also has implemented marketing programs through the Delaware THA, including special-event days recognizing outstanding horses Afleet Alex and Havre de Grace—both broke their maiden at Delaware Park—and “Family Fun Days,” which are designed to bring families out for a day at the races.
“I would like to congratulate Bessie on this honor,” said Kevin DeLucia, Senior Vice President of Racing/Finance at Delaware Park. “This is the second consecutive a year a person from the Delaware Park family has been recognized at the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards. While these are individual awards, it is really a reflection of the entire team and all of the good hard-working people we have in the Delaware Park family. Once again, I would like to congratulate Bessie on this recognition.”
“I am pleased Bessie has received this prestigious recognition,” said Executive Director of Racing John Mooney. “We have been professional colleagues for decades and during that time, we have worked hard to improve Delaware racing. Once again, I would like to congratulate her on this recognition.”
The Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards recognize and reward the outstanding talent, diligence and commitment of farm and racing stable staff.
The Godolphin TIE Administration Award was implemented to celebrate those in Thoroughbred breeding, racing or support services. It recognizes a high standard of organizational, time-management and communication skills; attention to detail; ability to suggest innovations and efficiencies on the job; positive interactions with others; and fostering team spirit. The Community Award is for those who have made outstanding contributions to the industry and who contribute to the greater good of the sport.