A Time to Give

By Victor Zast
Win or lose, my wife saves a little something for the Salvation Army guy who waits outside the gates of the racetrack. I guess dropping a couple of bucks into his kettle is her wager on karma.

This personal reminder of how gambling connects with her customary acts of kindness comes at a time when I should be thinking of others.

People in racing are the most generous on earth, but now is the season to be sharing, and the less lucky in life are hoping that we, the more fortunate, won't forget them. So overwhelming is the power of fund-raising initiatives dedicated to saving our horses that often the efforts devoted to helping humans in need are unseen.

I met a man ripping up a betting slip and he said when I tried to console him, "Aren't I a lucky guy to have a problem like that?" He strolled out of the racetrack as happy as when he entered, only to return on another sunny Saturday. What a perfect perspective, I thought.

Giving even a lot won't make a dent in what we, the readers of The Blood-Horse, will be left with. Getting a little can seem like a fortune to the hope-stretched many outside of this magazine's realm.

On Kelso Avenue on the backstretch of Belmont Park, the workers of Anna House are searching for donations. Several years ago, in the cold of early morning, jockey Jerry Bailey came across some sleeping children in the backseat of a car that was abandoned by its owners--two parents who were eking out a living by caring for the animals that enable us pleasure.

Bailey and his wife, Suzee, spoke up about building a center to care for the pre-school children on the backstretch. With a gift of $1 million from Eugene Melnyk, and the pro bono efforts of Michael Dubb, who owns a construction company, the Belmont Child Care Association was begun. Now the effort needs money to keep going.

Pat Day, like Bailey, is a catalyst for fund-raising. Day's choice of charities, the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, recently funneled money from its kitty to help families that were hurt by Hurricane Katrina. But on an average day, the organization's outreach is immediate.

It's a chaplain who tells a backstretch employee to see a doctor when he's ailing. It's a chaplain who comforts a mother who is married to a groom that disappears. Drug abuse, alcoholism, and gambling addiction are conditions that infiltrate the racetrack, as the chaplains guide the helpless away from the hopeless side through prayer.

You can look in all directions to make a difference. For decades, the Keeneland Foundation has been a source of financial assistance to service groups throughout the Bluegrass. Bill and Susan Casner created the Race for Education program, which has been a catalyst for families of farm and racetrack workers to improve their lives through learning.

Thoroughbred Charities of America, founded by Herb and Ellen Moelis, is the industry's largest contributor to eleemosynary organizations. It distributes 93% of its revenues to grantees. Although the distribution is focused on horse rescue and research, at least 45 of its 158 charities are devoted to the betterment of people, so there are plenty of human-directed programs that your donations will support.

In this vein, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Breeders' Cup have donated valuable assistance to the Ronald McDonald House and have raised millions of dollars for the sufferers of 9/11. The Jockey Club Foundation is a charitable trust that provides people on the edge with aid.

No industry is better at philanthropy than the Thoroughbred industry, and it can be dispiriting to hear its detractors discredit its reputation by dwelling only on that which makes the horse business look greedy and uncaring. Yet, in the face of unfairness, time and again, the truth is revealed.

No matter how much you've contributed already, it can never be enough. Dig deeper again. Charity, by nature, is an infinite virtue.

This Christmas and Chanukah, please think of those whom you count on to care for your animals. Imagine the pain felt by a rider who falls from his mount. Put yourself in the place of a family without somewhere to call home. Then, follow the natural character of the people who make up our industry, and give.