Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘Power’ In Teamwork At Belmont

by | 01.12.2018 | 4:24pm
Employees at Belmont Park

Extreme weather conditions in New York last week did more than force the cancellation of racing at Aqueduct; on Thursday afternoon, power to the Belmont Park backstretch was lost.

Open as a training facility during the winter, Belmont's power outage left the dorm rooms of approximately 125 stable employees without heat just as the below-freezing temperatures set in.

It took the collaborative effort of several groups to ensure that those employees weren't left out in the cold, said Andy Belfiore, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

“The chaplain (Humberto Chavez) was the first to get on-scene – he was the first line of defense,” Belfiore said. “He worked tirelessly to get the Belmont Café open for those workers so that they'd have a warm place to go. NYTHA told him not to worry about the cost (of the food), that we would pay for it.”

Veronica Gallardo, a member of the NYRA dorm team, also spent hours going door-to-door through the dorms to make sure all of the employees living on the Belmont grounds were safe. She knows most of them by name, and was able to quickly assess which individuals might need the most help due to health or other concerns.

“We didn't want anybody trying to tough it out in the dorms,” Belfiore explained. “The NYRA dorm team was outstanding, absolutely tireless. On Thursday night, everyone had food and a warm place to sleep in the Café.”

By Friday, some of the power to the backstretch had been restored. Unfortunately, a transformer powering much of the area sustained severe damage, and initial efforts to repair it were unsuccessful.

A new transformer was eventually located and scheduled for delivery on Saturday; according to Belfiore, NYRA vice president of facilities and racing surfaces Glen Kozak inspired “superhuman” efforts to get the new transformer installed by Saturday afternoon.

Both NYTHA and the Backstretch Employee Service Team (BEST) were on site Friday to help out wherever needed. Many were putting in 16-hour days during the deep freeze, including NYTHA's Rick Schosberg and president Joe Appelbaum, Race Track Chaplaincy's Nick Caras, and BEST's Paul Ruchames.

NYTHA also sponsored free coffee for backstretch employees during the freeze, both at the food truck and the Belmont Café, as well as several free meals.

Kozak also oversaw the efforts of NYRA plumbers and pipe-fitters as they worked to restore hot water to the barn area. NYTHA sent out multiple email updates through the weekend, and helped to coordinate the flow of information between trainers and repairmen to ensure that everyone was properly taken care of.

Some of the dorms are still without heat, but the last few backstretch employees staying in the Belmont Café were moved into functioning dorms by Tuesday morning.

“The chaplaincy and NYRA were at least as instrumental as BEST and NYTHA in dealing with last week's crisis,” said Belfiore. “They were incredible.”

This Friday, power went out once again at Belmont and its surrounding neighborhoods. Backstretch workers can rest easy, though; between the efforts of Chaplain Chavez, Veronica Gallardo and Nick Garafola, Glen Kozak, and the NYTHA and BEST teams, all the workers can trust that they'll be taken care of.

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