While racetracks in the Northeast were largely spared significant damage from Hurricane Sandy, trainers, backstretch workers, and others did not escape the storm's wrath.
Just a short drive from Belmont Park, trainer Gary Contessa's apartment was destroyed. Trainer Tom Bush had a tree crash through the roof of his home. Others, like Todd Pletcher and Mark Hennig, were among the millions of people to lose power for days.
But as is often the case in the tight-knit horse racing community, both those who felt the storm's impact and many others in the industry have stepped up to aid the recovery process in New York and New Jersey.
As many as 40 backstretch workers from Belmont and Aqueduct have been gathering daily to collect supplies and bring them to the most affected areas – places like Long Beach and The Rockaways. Chaplain Humberto Chavez of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, New York is helping to lead the effort.
“When I first got out there, it looked like a war zone. It was really bad,” Chavez said. “It's hard to imagine. There's nowhere even to grab a bite to eat. It's really hard to grasp.
“The ones who stepped up are those who work in the backstretch area but didn't really get affected by the storm. They just decided – if we're not affected, where can we help?”
Chavez said clothing is not a need at this time. The most essential needs include flashlights, batteries, winter hats and gloves, working gloves, coats, blankets, sleeping bags, non-perishable food items, diapers, feminine products and cleaning supplies. Supplies can be mailed to RTCANY, PO Box 66, Elmont, NY 11003.
Chavez said people can make financial contributions at the Chaplaincy's website. Be sure to earmark your donation for Hurricane Sandy.
The Chaplaincy is among several racing organizations and individuals helping to support the efforts of relief workers. The New York Racing Association donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross.
“Although more than 100 trees fell between our two downstate tracks and wind damaged some structures, we consider ourselves extremely fortunate,” said NYRA President Ellen McClain. “All horses and humans residing on our property weathered the storm safely, but Sandy has affected employees, horsemen, and farms. NYRA embraces its responsibility as a leader in both the community and the horse racing industry by making a meaningful contribution to disaster relief fundraising efforts.”
In New Jersey, a command center at Monmouth Park remains fully operational. More than 20 tents were erected in the parking lots to accommodate nearly 750 relief workers who have come from all over the country. Tents are also being used by the Red Cross to house people displaced by the storm.
“What we've seen here is truly a community, and for that matter, a nation coming together,” said Dennis Drazin, an advisor to the track's operators. “No matter how long it takes or whatever we have to do, Monmouth Park will continue to open its doors and provide whatever assistance we can.”
At Laurel Park in Maryland, trainer Donna Lockard decided she wanted to help, too. She grew up spending her summers on the Jersey Shore. Saturday, Lockard will park her horse trailer in front of the Laurel Park grandstand entrance all day, hoping to fill it with donations. Sunday, she plans to drive the trailer to Neptune, New Jersey and hand off the items to the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.
“I just wanted to do something to help the people that really needed it,” Lockard said. “I called the food bank, and they said they needed supplies. I decided to get the horse community down here behind me and see if we can fill this thing up.”
Lockard hopes fans going to the races Saturday at Laurel will bring toilet paper and bottled water. Other items needed: Diapers, batteries and flashlights, blankets, socks and underwear, toiletries, instant coffee and juice boxes, and canned goods. The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association is helping to man the donation trailer.
Among other efforts, trainer Mark Hennig said Brookledge Horse Transportation brought gas from Pennsylvania to help “their loyal customers” at Belmont Park. As of today, New York joined New Jersey in rationing gasoline.
Thanks to the generosity of Three Chimneys Farm, the sponsor of Good News Friday, a donation of $100 will be made in support of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, New York. Three Chimneys will be donating $100 each and every week we bring you a story of people or organizations making a positive difference in our world.
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