Interviewing in the fall of 2018 for a position in the Information Technology Department of the New York Racing Association (NYRA), I remember being struck by something I had never thought about before.
My interview that day was in an area that faces the 1½-mile dirt oval at Belmont Park, offering me a view – and a part of the track – I’d never seen or visited.
That’s because I was more accustomed to the track’s backstretch, the expansive barn area beyond the track where my parents worked with the horses – my dad as a groom and my mom as a hot walker. Although I grew up in Elmont, a stone’s throw from Belmont Park, working for NYRA on the “frontside” of the business as I do now is in a sense a long way from the part of the track that I knew.
The racetrack has been a part of my world for as long as I can remember. As kids, my older sister, Jessica, and I loved accompanying our dad to work. From watching my parents leave most days at 5 a.m., I learned to appreciate their sacrifice, especially all those mornings when our dad would cut away from the track to drive me to school. A lot of my friends are the sons and daughters of backstretch workers; and for several summers as teenagers, Jessica and I worked as white caps or ushers at historic Saratoga Race Course.
Because of the support of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA) Scholarship program, I was fortunate to be provided with financial aid. In fact, my sister and I both graduated from colleges within the City University of New York (CUNY) system because of our connection with horse racing.
Some may think that horse racing is a sport for the elite or privileged few. From my experience, that depiction couldn’t be further from the truth. The heart and soul of our sport are the hard-working people on the backstretch who make racing possible throughout New York and across the country. They’re people like my mom and dad, for whom racing is a livelihood and has given my sister and me the opportunity to go to college.
These job opportunities went so far beyond my immediate circle, and in reality, the sport of horse racing provides thousands of good-paying jobs to families just like mine.
I’m living proof that thoroughbred racing is as much about the people who work in the industry to raise their families as it is about the beautiful racehorses we’re so proud to care for every single day.
David Berrios is a member of the NYRA Information Technology team.