By Bradford Cummings
“The fate of Eddie Sweat is one of the great shames of the track.” – Bill Nack, seven-time winner of Eclipse Award for writing and author of “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion.”
And so the story goes with one of the most legendary backside workers in the history of the Thoroughbred industry. After years of dedication to the sport and despite being the groom to arguably the greatest horse of the 20th century in Secretariat, Eddie Sweat died virtually penniless in 1998. It was in that moment an organization known for its selflessness and dedication to the less fortunate in our industry showed its true colors. The Jockey Club Foundation stepped up and helped pay for Sweat's funeral.
Established in 1943 with the financial aid of five New York racetracks, the Jockey Club Foundation, headquartered in Manhattan, has been a light for those met with tragedy who are a part of the industry but struggle to make ends meet each month. A staff of only two, led by Executive Director Nancy Kelly, takes care of everything the Foundation does from raising money to identifying those in need to ultimately sending the help necessary.
Since 1985 when Ms. Kelly started working as an event planner for the organization, the Jockey Club Foundation has helped well over 1,000 individuals and families through gifts just under $13 million.
With so many helped by the Foundation, it would be reasonable to think many applicants would have to be turned down. Think again. “As long as the need is genuine and they meet our requirements, we try not to turn them down. Even if we can only help a little,” said Kelly. The requirements are simple to receive help; you or an immediate family member must be licensed by the industry. And while some gifts are more substantial than others, even enough money for a couple weeks of groceries from an unexpected source or help negotiating down a doctor's bill can mean the difference between getting through a difficult time and losing everything.
This year round organization gets the majority of its funding from members of the Jockey Club led by the Jockey Club Foundation Board of Trustees (Steven Duncker, Helen Alexander and D. G. Van Clief Jr.), NYRA and other industry associates. All funds are invested to get the most out of each donation.
While they have a synergistic relationship with the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation, Kelly would like you to know that her group is separate from its research-oriented older sister. Both are maintained under the auspices of the Jockey Club. “So many people are confused about the two groups. Grayson is the horse charity and we are the people charity,” Kelly stated simply.
But the two organizations do often work together. Just a few weeks ago, before the Belmont Stakes, the Paulick Report was unable to coordinate a meeting with Ms. Kelly because she was consumed by a Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation event tied to the third leg of the Triple Crown.
So how do those in need find the Foundation? Just like in fundraising, it starts with members of the Jockey Club and others in the industry. If someone knows of a situation appropriate to the Jockey Club Foundation's cause, they can simply and anonymously refer the candidate to the organization and Kelly and her small staff will take care of the rest. Of course, anonymity is guaranteed for those they help as well which is both an asset and hindrance as it makes getting the word out on the Foundation more difficult. But enough have come forward to express their appreciation, like the family of Eddie Sweat, to make people aware of the good the Jockey Club Foundation does for the people in the Thoroughbred industry.
If you would like to make a donation to support this organization, the Jockey Club Foundation asks you to visit their website and donate online. And to find out more about the Foundation and how you can help, visit their website.
It seems wearing so many hats would make the Jockey Club Foundation staff burnout rate high. But not Ms. Kelly. Her drawer of letters from those she has helped makes the work more than worth it. “Some of the letters are real tearjerkers. If I'm having a bad day and then I come in and read a letter, it changes my perspective,” she said.
“I never have a bad day.”
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