Humberto Chavez ministers to the entire backstretch community.
Photo by Alyssa Jung.
continued “It’s something for them to do since mom and dad might be working two jobs, one in the morning with the horses and one in the afternoon at a local restaurant or the racetrack itself,” said Chavez.
In Belmont the chaplaincy has a school program and gives out food on a weekly basis, as well as at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The backstretch village
So what’s it like to be a backstretch worker? Chavez said there are several jobs, starting with the trainer in charge of training the horses, a foreman, assistant trainers, grooms and hot walkers.
“The groom is the voice of the actual horse. If it hurts, the groom knows that it hurts somewhere,” said Chavez. “The hot walker is the person that walks a horse for about 30 minutes and gets to cool the horse down when they’re off the track.”
There could be five to eight different horses to care for on a daily basis, so backstretch workers rise at 4 a.m. and are usually done by 9 or 10 a.m.
Workers have the option of living on site in the racetrack dormitory, which looks much like a college dorm room, but they can also opt to find their own housing elsewhere in town and pay rent.
Besides the unplanned and spontaneous situations that require Chavez’s attention or action, the chaplaincy has a slew of programs targeting educational, social, recreational and other issues.
There’s a Monday night bible study, soccer or basketball tournaments and backstretch appreciation evenings in a tent behind the recreation center. At the Belmont and Aqueduct race courses there’s a Closet of Hope, food distribution and other assistance.
The chaplaincy gets its “parishioners” recognition too. Jockeys, trainers and owners of winning horses are typically all the public sees, but the chaplaincy gives the backstretch workers their time in the spotlight, too.