The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA) was created to represent the hundreds of dedicated horse trainers working seven days a week at the New York Racing Association racetracks and the thousands of horse owners who invest their time, money and passion in the sport of racing.
It is NYTHA’s responsibility to protect the horsemen’s financial and political interests. But it is the organization’s mission to watch out for those in the industry who ask for the least and deserve the most—the backstretch workers and the horses. Last year, NYTHA earmarked $1,688,617 to programs that improve the quality of life for the backstretch community and ensure safe haven for retiring Thoroughbreds.
It all starts with the Backstretch Employee Service Team (BEST), which provides a host of services to the backstretch workers, most notably the free primary care health clinics at Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. In addition, BEST has fully licensed substance abuse counsellors on staff, offering on-site support for anyone struggling with addiction.
BEST administers the dental and eye care programs, subsidizes the cost of health care premiums, and works with the local communities to offer a pro bono legal clinic and tax preparation assistance. NYTHA’s 2019 support for the BEST programs totaled $736,520.
“We are very grateful for the steadfast and generous support of NYTHA in 2019 and in past years,” BEST Executive Director Paul Ruchames said. “BEST has become the safety net for health and social services for the backstretch worker community, in large measure because of the support we receive from NYTHA. In 2019, BEST’s services were viewed as a model for other major U.S. tracks and reached approximately 3,000 workers at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.”
BEST widened its embrace of the backstretch last year, taking over the Backstretch Education Fund programs; BEST now oversees the Language Lab, English as a Second Language courses and the Backstretch Bistro, which offers an alcohol-free gathering spot on Friday and Saturday evenings, with entertainment and light refreshments.
Responsible Thoroughbred aftercare and equine welfare are also high priorities for NYTHA and its members. NYTHA’s expenditure for equine research and retirement was $433,858 in 2019, with the lion’s share of the funding going to TAKE THE LEAD, which has placed nearly 600 racehorses with Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited organizations, and TAKE2, which promotes second careers for Thoroughbreds as show horses.
NYTHA also supports the TAA directly, as well as accredited programs such as ACTT Naturally, Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue, Exceller Fund, Final Furlong, New Vocations, ReRun and Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
“NYTHA’s commitment to the health and well-being of our racehorses, not only during their racing careers, but, and equally as important, after they are done racing, is clearly evident by the amount of money and resources put forth in 2019 specially for aftercare,” NYTHA Aftercare Committee Chair Rick Schosberg said. “This commitment continues to grow both monetarily and with the expanding growth in the TAKE THE LEAD Program. The last six months of 2019 saw a record number of candidates move on to second careers via TAA-accredited facilities in the region, and 2020 looks to continue that trend. We cannot thank the New York horsemen, veterinarians and transportation companies enough for their participation and support in our aftercare initiative.”
Education is of paramount importance in expanding the horizons of the backstretch community. The NYTHA Scholarship Program helps the workers and their families to realize the dream of a college education, and distributed $190,034 in grants for tuition, transportation and books last year. The NYTHA Scholarship students attended schools including Adelphi, Hofstra, Molloy, Nassau Community College, NYIT, Stony Brook and SUNY Old Westbury on Long Island; Brooklyn College, Hunter, Monroe, Queens College and St. John’s in the five boroughs; and Cornell, Ithaca College, Siena, SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Oneonta, University at Albany and University of Buffalo throughout the state.
Last year, Victoria Casso graduated from NC State with a degree in veterinary medicine, and she is now working with the horses on the backstretch of New York’s racetracks.
The hotwalkers, grooms, exercise riders and assistant trainers are dedicated to the horses, but the New York division of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America is focused on providing not only spiritual guidance and moral support, but also a first-class recreation program to ensure it’s not all work and no play. RTCA-NY, headed by Chaplain Humberto Chavez and Nick Caras, puts together an amazing array of activities, with bingo and movie nights, holiday parties, and pool tournaments at the track, as well as trips to the beach, the lake and the mountains, and to sporting events, concerts, museums, and amusement parks. NYTHA donated $84,222 to New York’s recreation program last year, and an additional $40,000 to fund the great work done by Team RTCA-NY.
NYTHA donates $25,000 each year to the Belmont Child Care Association’s 365-day-a-week daycare center, Anna House. The organization helps the backstretch workers with burial, meal and rent assistance, and subsidizes the cost of safety equipment for exercise riders. The horsemen support charities such as the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, Interfaith Nutrition Network, John Thiessen Children’s Foundation, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Play for P.I.N.K., Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council, and Toys for Tots.
“One of the most fulfilling aspects of being part of NYTHA is seeing how many lives we touch by contributing to the work of great organizations like BEST, the Chaplaincy, Anna House and TAKE THE LEAD,” NYTHA President Joe Appelbaum said. “People sometimes ask us, where does NYTHA’s funding go, and we are very proud to be able to show them all that is being done to help the horses and the backstretch community.”