Feature: Working with the B.E.S.T.
Without the hard work and dedication of backstretch workers taking continuous care of the race horses that we follow and grow to love, there would be no horse racing industry.
The importance of supporting and helping backstretch workers will be the main topic at a seminar at Equestricon focusing on the work that's done by B.E.S.T. (Backstretch Employee Service Team) to assist barn area workers at New York tracks.
"Backstretch workers are the backbone of the racing industry,” said Larry Collmus, New York Racing Association announcer and the voice of the Triple Crown. “They’re out there every single morning and all day long working with these horses and they deserve as much help as they can get. It’s great for us to be able to help them out because without them we wouldn’t have these magnificent horses making their way to the race track for us to enjoy every day”
Collmus will lead the B.E.S.T. seminar at Equestricon. Paul Ruchames, Executive Director of B.ES.T., will also participate in the discussion at Equestricon starting at 3:00 PM on Tuesday, August 15, at the Saratoga Springs City Center.
A 7-minute long documentary will be screened during the seminar. The provocative short film was produced by The Mental Health Channel.
“The production value is spectacular. Most people come away feeling real empathy for the backstretch workers and that’s the most important thing,” said Ruchames.
What is B.E.S.T.?
B.E.S.T. has been helping track workers including grooms, hot walkers and exercise riders in New York since 1989. The organization assists more than 2,000 workers during the Saratoga meet alone, and thousands at the Belmont and Aqueduct fall, winter and spring meets.
"We’re really the safety net for the backstretch workers," said Ruchames. “We provide health care, health insurance, life insurance, drug and alcohol treatment, clothing and food, when needed. Without us, the backstretch would be a much less healthy place and the backstretch workers, by extension, would be much less productive.”
Separate from the work it does in New York, B.E.S.T. has informal meetings with groups in Florida, California and Kentucky — all of it revolving around similar activities to help backstretch workers.
Hotwalkers of Distinction
During the Equestricon seminar, B.E.S.T. will announce two winners of a "Hotwalkers of Distinction" award. Trainers can already start nominating prospective recipients of the award due by August 1. To access the form, click the link below:
Each winning hotwalker (handler that leads the horse to help cool them down) will receive a check for $250 and can make an acceptance speech at the Equestricon seminar, if they wish to.
“Our mission is to help them in the ways discussed, but also to get them the attention and recognition that they deserve,” said Ruchames.
The Third Race & Fifth Race
This isn't the first time B.E.S.T. has honored backstretch workers in a public forum. Every day during the Saratoga meet before the fifth race, B.E.S.T. awards the "Groom of the Day" award with West Point Thoroughbreds in the historic Saratoga winners' circle. B.E.S.T. presents $100 to each winning groom (the main caretaker for the race horse).
“It’s a way to give the unheralded people behind the scenes more attention. They put them on the jumbotron, their name is announced and it’s a really neat thing,” said Ruchames.
Also, B.E.S.T. runs the “Third Race Call” promotion every day at Saratoga (except opening day and Travers day), where fans can pay $100 per person to meet Collmus and watch him call a live race. This fundraiser has been going on for over a decade and B.E.S.T. has raised over $100,000 over that time.
“Tom Durkin did that for years. When I took over at Saratoga, I also continued on with that because I thought it was a great idea,” said Collmus. “The backstretch workers certainly deserve as much as they can get. They work very hard back there and it’s a terrific program to help them, so I continued that tradition of having people coming up for the third race and have them watch the race with me for that outstanding cause. It’s something I really enjoy doing and want to continue to do.”
B.E.S.T. is a non-profit organization and any donations are tax deductible. To donate to B.E.S.T., please visit the organization’s website here: http://bestbackstretch.org/donate-now/