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 Horse Award.

“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.”

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