The World’s Latest Belmont Stakes wrap-up, and it’s not about racing. Per se.
I know, I know: a few weeks ago I wrote a love letter to New York, and to our racing community. I don’t want to make you think that New York racing is the only topic about which I know how to write!
But darned if the New York racing family didn’t come together in June to prove that, indeed, horse racing IS a community–and that indeed, we are our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers…
I have an annual ritual, something I do to keep my head together and buckle down for the insanity that’s about to descend. Every year on Belmont Stakes Day, I arrive at beautiful Belmont Park by 7AM, and set up camp for the long day ahead.
Armed with a monstrous cup of coffee, a newspaper, pad of paper and pen, I drag my tired self through the turnstile. (This year the dragging took me through the security stops at the media entrance, and I got wanded. OOH! Not only was I OK with that–I was grateful that NYRA was vigilant, and took every precaution that no nut-job, packing weapons could slime into the crowd. I have no problem with a big, burly guy going through my purse. No one should have a problem with that idea, unless they’re packin’ a handgun–in which case, the offender should be arrested on-the-spot. Thank God for NYRA’s security team, and the crack job of keeping us all safe–horses and humans, alike. I’ve never felt more safe in my Life as I did at Belmont on June 8, 2013.)
I digress. As usual. Anyway! I set up shop at my usual table, slowly sipped my coffee and thoroughly enjoyed the people-watching. Everyone else also was in slow-mo at that hour, as well, it seemed: NYRA employees, police and media folks filtered in–I’m sure that they also were preparing for the very, very long day that lay ahead. It was quiet: the only sounds I could hear were those of birds tweeting–the original tweet, mind you. (Nature: nothing to do with technology.)
I saw also two policemen with beautiful, black German Shepherd Dogs. (Bomb-sniffers, I guessed.) Had they not been working dogs, no doubt I’d have kissed them and patted their sleek, shiny, black bodies. But they were men on a mission, so I just smiled at the police and their canine partners. As the morning wore on, my posse began to arrive, including Georgia and Bill Rush, owners and photo/videojournalists at www.TalkOfTheTrack.com . I’d met Georgia and Bill just the Tuesday before, through photographer and friend, Cathy Duffy. (What a great couple! You must check out their ‘site–I met them and instantly knew that they were kindred spirits.)
Georgia and Bill and thousands of people like them–Good, Horse-Loving People–are the core of what makes horse racing a community, indeed. Everyone in this sport has one thing in common, if nothing else: we love horses obsessively, and racing them. Watching a horse workout or race is one of the greatest joys on Earth, and everyone involved in racing–fans and professionals, alike–know that this connection to The Horse truly is The Tie that Binds.
We are Family. We are Community. I’ve known this since I was a teenage fan, but being a goofy teenager, I didn’t realize how deeply entrenched in the community I could have been, even back then.
I love my racing family–as no doubt you do, as well. And I’m so pleased when I see us behaving as a community. A real group of people who come together--NOT just people who like the same sport, or even who feel passionately about it.
An aside: Race fans haven’t yet indulged in the practice of removing shirts and painting bodies in the colors of the silks of their favorite horses–although, God knows, that day may come. I tend to think that a lot of that display at football games is fueled by alcohol and a handy can of paint. The tradition started when one guy got loaded on cheap beer and slurred, “Hey, this is a good idea…”
I don’t think that the Cheeseheads who paint their bodies feel like they’re part of a genuine community, though. They may get airtime on the JumboTron, but do other fans think of the Painted Ones as being part of their family, or tribe? Doubtful: that sense of family is reserved for horse racing.
As you know, there’s something about a horse that inspires hearts to connect at a very real, very important level.
Well, back at the track, my new friend Georgia sent her Bill on a mission to get programs–graciously, he bought one for me. I expected that it would be lovely, of course, and very well-done. (The Communications Office at NYRA is second-to-none: nothing second-class comes from their office.)
But what I didn’t expect was that which brought tears to my eyes.
When Georgia and Bill went off to take photos and video interviews, I sat all by my lonesome for a while. Still sipping coffee, enjoying the relative quiet before the masses descended like an elephant on a bag of peanuts. I started going through the program slowly and deliberately, with my new pen. (I always make notes about the program on big race days–not just the races. The advertisements and articles always are worthy of serious attention.)
I got to page 37, and had to read it about seven times through: there at the top of the page, I saw the logo for the Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma.
The very people who’d lost so many horses to the evil tornado in May–the people for whom my heart ached, for whom YOUR hearts ached–apparently, were being honored that day at Belmont. Oh, My God, their logo was at the top of page 37.
So was that of the Red Cross, and NYRA’s logo at the bottom. I had to read it several times to be sure that my happy eyes and heart had the story straight: NYRA was working with the Red Cross and the TRAO to raise funds specifically for the horsemen and horsewomen who’d lost so, so much in that horrible storm. (People all over the world knew of this devastating loss–I read so many condolences from good souls in the Middle East, Europe, Australia–on Facebook. So I hope that the American race fans who are reading this are in the loop, and know that a gigantic tornado decimated Moore, Oklahoma in May. That meteorological monster murdered over 100 horses, and wiped out entire barns and racing stables.)
Again, I digress. (But you know me well enough by now to know that I do that–but that the digressions always is germane to the story.)
My eyes welled with tears when I realized that MY New York racing community–that our NYRA—had reached out to our Thoroughbred racing family in Oklahoma–and had devised a plan to raise money for our comrades in The Sooner State who’d suffered so much just weeks before. I sat by myself at that table and said aloud to no one in particular, “I love NYRA.”
I turned the page, and read then that the fourth race was named,
NYRA Supports Oklahoma and Its Horses
American Red Cross and the
Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma Benevolent Fund.
I cried some more. I said to myself–and to God–again, “I love NYRA.” Then I thought about the fact that our entire racing community is unique in all of sports, because of people and events like this.
Individual football players and entire teams may create foundations for this-that-or-the-other charity or special interest. But horse racing is the only sport of which I am aware in which the participants are rivals one minute, hunkering down in the foxholes together, the next. Oklahoma had a lively, competitive horse racing industry before the tornado, but the heartbreak of losing so many beautiful, beloved horses must be heart-wrenching. The industry can be bigger and better than ever, but so many emotional wounds must heal even as they re-build barns, farms and livelihoods.
Photo and Caption:
In the winner’s circle, NYRA’s Chief Financial Officer, Susanne Stover and David O’Rourke, Vice President Corporate Development, welcomed John Miller, the CEO of American Red Cross on Long Island and Danielle Barber, Executive Director of the Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma. The symbolism of this meetingplace–the winner’s circle–cannot be overlooked. Surely, Oklahoma’s horse racing community will feel like winners again, soon.
Think about it: Belmont Stakes Day is probably the single-busiest, most insane day of the year for the New York Racing Association and its employees. Even on a year like this, in which the Triple Crown is NOT on the line–everyone in NYRA’s stable of workers was up to their eyeballs in work. Even the six weeks of Saratoga–well, at least that’s spread out by 40 days. At Belmont, there’s the raw, wild-eyed energy of New York City, that sets the tone. Add to that 747s screaming overhead as they land or take off from the two major airports nearby. Trains rattling in from the Boroughs, thousands of fans and partiers rumbling off the trains and out of cars.
Even if you stand still, the Earth still moves beneath your feet from the release of all that energy in one place. The implications are cosmic.
The cacophony, alone, is enough to make one go mad–or mad with excitement. But imagine trying to do your job–whatever your job–to make these thousands of people feel welcome and comfortable in such a loud, raucous environment.
So the fact that NYRA has strong leaders who are compassionate souls, also–compassionate horsepeople–this is symbolic of community, itself.
(I’m thinking that the event probably came about this way: Rodnell Workman, the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of NYRA, got together with Joanne Adams (Director of Community Relations) and Eric Wing (Director of Communications and Media Relations) and decided that, YES, the Biggest Day of NYRA’s Year–would be the ideal day to bring in some horsepeople from Oklahoma. To treat them like royalty–to show them that NYRA and New Yorkers care–and to raise money to help get them back in the game, and back into Life.)
I am so proud of NYRA. I am so proud to be a member of the New York racing community–a large, raucous, thinking, caring family of humans, bound together by the love of The Horse.
Our friends in Oklahoma lost horses, which means that we all lost horses.
They hurt–we hurt.
And the fact that NYRA would not turn its back on our Oklahoma friends, but rather honored them on the day that would have the most media coverage. The most attention from racing fans around the world. The day that NYRAns work the hardest was the day that they would take time and energy to show that New York racing has, at its heart, true horsemanitarianism.
I just wanted to make y’all aware of what NYRA did, and why. (I’m hoping that other major race tracks around the United States did similar fund- and attention-raisers–and if not, they need to get on it. Pain and loss can happen to anyone–to everyone, at any time.)
And if you, as an individual, fan or professional in racing, haven’t yet had a moment to sit down and send a check to Oklahoma–you still have time to show our peeps there that we really are family. Whether you live in California, Maine, Toronto or Dubai–it’s never too late to show you care.
At the core of the beautiful NYRA logos, the professionalism and the greatest racing on Earth beats a heart of pure gold.
And no trophy on Earth is as valuable as that.
* To donate to the Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma Benevolent Fund, contact either
Tammy Wright, Benevolence Administrator
Phone for both:
Here’s the TRAO Benevolence Fund page:
http://www.traoracing.com/news/help-horsemen-impacted-oklahoma-tornadoIt’s never too late to help, however you can. Thank you.
* On Belmont Stakes Day, Bill Rush interviewed two horse owners from Oklahoma who’d lost their entire stable. To see the interview, please visit www.talkofthetrack.com
Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma logo, thanks to TRAO.
NYRA and Belmont Stakes logos, thanks to NYRA.