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

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

No spectators have been allowed in the Long 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.

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

“He was a happy guy,” stated Morley’s assistant coach, Michelle Giangiulio, who examined optimistic for antibodies. “Never a day he didn’t show up. He was the very first one to get sick. He had a cold for a little bit and nobody really knew what the coronavirus was. He went downhill pretty quickly; he passed within two weeks.”

Morley secured a mortgage by means of the Paycheck Protection Program, the federal program created to assist companies throughout the pandemic, to maintain his 16 workers working and help his younger household. He has two daughters — Three-year-old Grace and Three-month-old Willow. While members of his workers 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.

“Without the P.P.P. loan, I’d be out of business,” stated Morley, a 36-year-old Englishman from a racing household. “We trainers live on fine margins. If we cannot race, we cannot earn. My owners were great, too. I did send some bills with a note that timely payment is greatly appreciated.”

The dormitories on the bottom of Belmont Park home 600 folks working in a group of barns, dormitories and strolling pens the place the focus is on the greater than 1,750 thoroughbreds. Veterinarian vans and vans for farriers, the individuals who shoe the horses, navigate the slender lanes slowly. This 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 whole coronavirus instances on the backstretch since March 19, 74 have recovered, and 6 remained in quarantine as of Wednesday. In addition, the New York Racing Association partnered with Northwell Health to supply coronavirus antibody testing to all backstretch staff and workers — 852 assessments in all.

Alicia Alfaro, 52, was quarantined for three weeks.

“All paid, thank God because so many people have lost their jobs,” she stated.

The Morley barn remains to be mourning the loss of life of Zapata, a mild soul from Panama who did every little thing from strolling horses to serving to with the laundry.

“We couldn’t say goodbye or see him,” stated Vera Pinto. “How sad to die in a country that isn’t yours without your family. I’ve been here 18 years the time passes so quickly.”

For Morley and his workers, a return to racing is a return to a lifestyle. The hours are lengthy seven days per week, however race days deliver hope — for a victory, a handbag test, or just validation that the horse’s coach and staff did their job effectively.

“It’s been a tough several weeks, extremely distressing,” he stated. “We are absolutely desperate to get back.”

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