The backstretch community—the stable workers who exercise, clean and care for the horses that race at Saratoga—are often called the backbone of the racing industry. But what happens when a member of that backbone needs support? That’s where the New York Race Track Chaplaincy comes in.
“It’s a unique community, because it’s very transient,” says Reverend Humberto Chavez, who this year celebrates 20 years as the Chaplain of the New York Race Track Chaplaincy. “You work for Todd Pletcher today, you might be working for George Weber tomorrow.” You might also need to follow the horses and move from Belmont to Saratoga Springs for part of the year or, if you’re based in Saratoga (as 30-40 backstretch families are), to find work at a breeding farm during the off-season months. And, most likely, English isn’t your first language.
The Chaplaincy provides all sorts of support services for such workers and their families—everything from providing emergency transportation and help navigating US citizenship to distributing school supplies and performing nondenominational religious services. More than 100 people are served by the Chaplaincy’s food pantry on a weekly basis and come Thanksgiving, about 300 bags with turkeys and all the fixings for a proper holiday spread are distributed.
“People don’t see that the workers are very proud to take on the responsibility of taking care of a horse that can’t speak,” Chavez says about the community he serves. “It doesn’t tell you where it hurts, but these folks are there. And they know.”
Join Humberto and the nine other 2023 honorees at our annual Capital Region Gives Back event on December 6 at Putnam Place.