At Belmont’s Backstretch, Caring for Horses During the Shutdown

Written by on June 4, 2020

Tom Morley had two thoroughbreds entered at Belmont Park on Wednesday when horse racing returned to New York for the primary time in almost three months. No winners, however it didn’t matter — this was hardly enterprise as regular.

No spectators have been allowed within the Lengthy Island racetrack. Temperature checks, masks and hand sanitizers have joined rakes, shovels, wraps and ice buckets as very important instruments of the commerce of caring for and racing horses.

Nonetheless, Morley, a coach, and his workforce have been gratified to be again at work after a harrowing 10 weeks. Six of his workers examined constructive for the coronavirus. 4 of them have been hospitalized. One, Martin Zapata, 63, the barn’s foreman, died.

“He was a contented man,” mentioned Morley’s assistant coach, Michelle Giangiulio, who examined constructive for antibodies. “By no means a day he didn’t present up. He was the very first one to get sick. He had a chilly for a little bit bit and no person actually knew what the coronavirus was. He went downhill fairly rapidly; he handed inside two weeks.”

PictureRocio Hernandez, a hot walker at the track, guiding a horse at Tom Morley’s barn on the backside of Belmont Park. She has now recovered after being hospitalized for the coronavirus. 

Morley secured a mortgage via the Paycheck Safety Program, the federal program created to assist companies through the pandemic, to maintain his 16 workers working and help his younger household. He has two daughters — 3-year-old Grace and 3-month-old Willow. Whereas members of his employees have been hospitalized or in quarantine, he despatched a few of his 35 horses to farms elsewhere in New York and in New Jersey, the place day charges are cheaper.

“With out the P.P.P. mortgage, I’d be out of enterprise,” mentioned Morley, a 36-year-old Englishman from a racing household. “We trainers stay on positive margins. If we can not race, we can not earn. My house owners have been nice, too. I did ship some payments with a word that well timed cost is significantly appreciated.”

The dormitories on the bottom of Belmont Park home 600 individuals working in a group of barns, dormitories and strolling pens the place the main focus is on the greater than 1,750 thoroughbreds. Veterinarian vans and vehicles for farriers, the individuals who shoe the horses, navigate the slim lanes slowly. That is an invisible workforce that cares for and feeds the horses. They trip them in morning exercises. They ice and wrap their legs. They clear their stalls.

There have been 81 complete coronavirus circumstances on the backstretch since March 19, 74 have recovered, and 6 remained in quarantine as of Wednesday. As well as, the New York Racing Affiliation partnered with Northwell Well being to supply coronavirus antibody testing to all backstretch employees and workers — 852 exams in all.

Alicia Alfaro, 52, was quarantined for 3 weeks.

“All paid, thank God as a result of so many individuals have misplaced their jobs,” she mentioned.

The Morley barn continues to be mourning the dying of Zapata, a mild soul from Panama who did all the pieces from strolling horses to serving to with the laundry.

“We couldn’t say goodbye or see him,” mentioned Vera Pinto. “How unhappy to die in a rustic that isn’t yours with out your loved ones. I’ve been right here 18 years the time passes so rapidly.”

For Morley and his employees, a return to racing is a return to a lifestyle. The hours are lengthy seven days every week, however race days carry hope — for a victory, a handbag examine, or just validation that the horse’s coach and workforce did their job properly.

“It’s been a troublesome a number of weeks, extraordinarily distressing,” he mentioned. “We’re completely determined to get again.”

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