|HBPA is working with RTCA to Honor Backstretch
Workers During Breeders' Cup Week
The Race Track Chaplaincy
of America (RTCA), in conjunction with several racing organizations including
the National HBPA, will present the first White Horse Award at Santa Anita’s
Seabiscuit Court on Thursday, October 23, two days before the $14-million
Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Given to the one
backstretch or racing farm worker judged to have performed the most heroic
act on behalf of human or horse, the annual award will be presented during
a special White Horse Heroes Luncheon. The Texas Horsemen’s Partnership
(THP) is an affiliate member of the National HBPA.
“I think the award is a wonderful idea,” said D.G. Van Clief,
Jr., president of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. and vice chairman of the NTRA.
“I think it will become a point of pride for a group of unsung heroes
who live and work in racing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
At the suggestion of Sherwood Chillingworth, the executive vice president
of Oak Tree Racing, which is hosting the Breeders’ Cup races on
October 25, RTCA is declaring October 23 as National White Horse Heroes
Day. The RTCA is working with 25 of its chaplains at tracks operating
that day in an effort to partner with local HBPAs and tracks in sponsoring
corresponding luncheons. TVG recently announced that it will telecast
the presentation ceremony live, paving the way for track workers around
the nation to have lunch and view their peers being honored at Santa Anita.
HBPA offices have also helped by nominating candidates. The HBPA of
Ontario, Canada, nominated Charlie McKay. The longtime groom for trainer
Jerry Meyer rescued at least six horses from the Woodbine Racetrack fire
in August of 2002 that destroyed 34 Thoroughbreds.
“The National HBPA is 100% behind the RTCA and the White Horse
Award and Heroes Day,” commented National HBPA President John Roark
and THP chairman. “My fellow horsemen, owners and trainers alike,
see firsthand the dedication and love backstretch workers have for their
horses and fellow employees. They’re all heroes to us.”
Other nominees include Roosevelt “Heavy” Robinson, a Philadelphia
Park paddock valet who pulled a female driver from her burning auto, and
Fred Lewis, a 68-year-old assistant starter who recently crawled beneath
Saratoga’s starting gate to pull to safety another assistant who
was pinned beneath an upside down, thrashing Thoroughbred.
Leigh Gray, a former Southern California exercise rider who now works
for the Southern California Equine Foundation, convinced surgeons there
to perform pro-bono surgeries on severely injured horses with the stipulation
that she do the aftercare at her tiny ranch and find them good homes.
To date, she has rescued and placed 112 Thoroughbreds, over half of whom
she said had been scheduled for euthanasia.
The winner will receive a $5,000 cash award, a special bronze White
Horse statue, and other donated prizes. The Daily Racing Form
is paying for an all-expense paid trips to the Breeders’ Cup for
the final four candidates. Plans call for the nominees to be made available
to the press and attend the various related functions. The feature race
that day will be named in their honor, and the White Horse Award winner
will present the trophy.
The final four and winner will be selected by members of the White Horse
Fellowship, an 18-member group that has demonstrated its care and concern
for racing’s workforce by donating $10,000 to the RTCA for each
of two years. National HBPA President John Roark will present the White
“You’re doing a wonderful thing,” said Laura Hillenbrand,
author of “Seabiscuit, An American Legend,” “I love
the idea of the White Horse Award. It is much needed and much overdue.”